Thursday, November 30, 2023

NASA Perseverance and Ingenuity: All you need to know


NASA Perseverance is the new age rover that is carrying the Ingenuity, the first helicopter on Mars sent by mankind. What will be the task of NASA Perseverance and Ingenuity? How will they work?

“Touchdown confirmed,” said operations lead Swati Mohan at around 3:55 pm Eastern Time (2055 GMT), as mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena erupted in cheers. That was the moment there as after seven months in space, the NASA Perseverance rover survived a nail-biting landing phase to touch down gently on the surface of Mars on Thursday, ready to embark on its mission to search for the signs of ancient microbial life on the Earth’s brother planet. The autonomously guided procedure was completed more than 11 minutes earlier, which is how long it takes for any radio signals to return to our planet.

Indian-American Swati Mohan led NASA Perseverance rover landing on Mars..

Mankind has already conquered Moon. Well, almost. Now we have set our eyes on Mars, the brother planet of earth. And among all, NASA, the most advanced space research organisation in the world is thriving to make new discoveries that would be the stepping stone to sending the first human to the Red planet.

NASA has made voyages into space which have redefined travel into the unknown territory. The American space agency has discovered scientifically path-breaking places and objects in the outer world that have great importance to people who work on the extra-terrestrial elements. One such discovery was the existence of life on Mars.

NASA procured a very strange item in the recent past – a rock from Mars. This rock was probably a part of the Martain surface and was lodged into space by the impact of an asteroid. It hovered in space for thousands of years until finally it entered the atmosphere of the Earth and crashed into the Allan Hills of Antarctica. Geologists scooped it up from there riding on their snowmobiles.

When this rock was scanned by a team of NASA scientists, they found a strange chemical composition inside this rock – ALH84001. It contained a combination of minerals and carbon compounds that on Earth are created by microbes. The rock also had crystals of magnetic iron oxide, called magnetite, which is produced by some bacterias. David McKay, Head of Scientists from Johson Space Center said that even though these aren’t absolute proof of Martian life, it all points in that direction only.

The NASA Perseverance is the most advanced, most expensive, and most sophisticated mobile laboratory sent to Mars till date.

NASA’s announcement made quite some ripples across the world. “Mars lived, rock shows Meteorite holds evidence of life on another world,” wrote the New York Times. “Fossil from the red planet may prove that we are not alone,” printed in The Independent.

The planet Mars is very magnificent, magical, and mysterious. The icy sub-surface and covering of red dust make the planet’s presence wonderful in dark outer space. Much like Earth, Mars also has gullies, volcanos, and flat plains.  Some scientists have also shown river channels on the surface which were carved many million years ago by blooming rivers, which have now dried up.

Since then, NASA has started working harder and harder to bring out exact evidence of life on Mars. They’ve created rovers that act as a very effective and efficient tool in the exploration of a planet.

NASA Perseverance

NASA Perseverance

NASA Perseverance is not just another rover mission on Mars. The NASA Perseverance is the most advanced, most expensive, and most sophisticated mobile laboratory sent to Mars till date. The results of the experiments on NASA Perseverance will likely define the next couple of decades of Mars exploration for mankind. Also, it will determine the course of the search for life and the future manned missions to the planet.

Talking about the rover missions on Mars, the question hovers that why don’t NASA use rockets? The difference is simple. Rockets are like statues, once you place them, they don’t move. But rovers are different. Rovers have wheels and are very easily movable. Remotely controlled from the earth, rovers can carry some amount of load with them and can be easily moved around, to carry samples and click pictures and maybe sometimes show a live feed!

The surface of Mars constitutes a variety of rocks and minerals. And each one varies heavily from the other. Studying each mineral separately and scanning it holistically can bring out facts that can change how we look at our neighbour planet. A rover helps space agencies to gather hard evidences from various nooks and corners of a planet and then bring it back for research and analysis.

Nasa has been sending its rovers to Mars for a long time now. It sent Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and finally the Curiosity.

NASA Perseverance

Curiosity was the most advanced and strong rover sent to Mars till date. It had the capabilities of sending images to receivers on Earth from different parts. Originally, it was sent to research on the Gale crater. Curiosity has almost spent 3,116 earth days on Mars and has made some expected but unprecedented discoveries.

Therefore, to follow up on these discoveries, the American space agency is sending its fourth rover to Mars, called Perseverance. The NASA Perseverance is a six-heel rover carrying a load of ten scientific equipment to work on the surface of Mars to conduct situational science experiments and predict the signs of past and/or present life and if one day, it’d be possible for humans to explore Mars.

NASA Perseverance is one of the more sophisticated kind of rovers which can not only capture images and videos but can also conduct experiments and also, possibly revert back to Earth whatever it gathers. The NASA Perseverance was launched on 30th July 30 2020 and finally landed on the Martian surface on 18th February 2021, after a 53-day journey across space.

The NASA Perseverance landed on the Jezero Crater of Mars and will carry on its mission to establish the presence of life on the Red planet.

NASA Perseverance

Ingenuity: The first-ever helicopter on Mars

Another interesting fact about NASA Perseverance is that it is carrying a helicopter called Ingenuity. It is going to be the first-ever helicopter sent to the Red planet.

Weighing just 1.8 kilograms, the blades of the Ingenuity helicopter are much larger and spin about five times faster at 2,400 revolutions per minute (rpm), than required to generate the same amount of lifting power back on Earth.

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration to test the powered flight on a different planet for the first time ever. There will be concentric flight tests for more than a 30-martian-day experimental period beginning in the spring of 2021.

Weighing just 1.8 kilograms, the blades of the Ingenuity helicopter are much larger and spin about five times faster at 2,400 revolutions per minute (rpm), than required to generate the same amount of lifting power back on Earth.

Ingenuity has four mechanical legs, a box-like body, and four carbon-fiber blades arranged in two rotors spinning in opposite directions. It comes with two cameras, computers, and navigation sensors onboard.

The Ingenuity is also equipped with solar cells that will not only keep the copter working but also keep its machinery warm in the rarefied mars atmosphere.

For the first-ever test, Ingenuity will take off for a few feet of the ground, hover around for some time on the same place and then land again. This short experiment will accomplish the milestone of the first powered flight on a different planet. Once done, the team will conduct more experiments with Ingenuity, changing the altitude and flying distance of the copter. Once the toughness of Ingenuity is tested and approved, the NASA Perseverance will further carry on with its own mission.

NASA Perseverance

Why Mars is so fascinating for mankind?

Among so many planets and space objects around us, Mars happens to be very interesting to scientists. Why? There are two reasons behind this quest.

First, Mars is a planet where life may have evolved in the past. On Earth, life evolved around 3.8 billion years ago. Roughly around 4 billion years ago, conditions on Mars were very similar to that of Earth. It had a thick atmosphere, stable water on the surface. This means, there is a real possibility that microscopic life evolved on Mars.

Second, among all the planets in the solar system, Mars is the only planet that humans can visit or inhabit in the long term. Venus and Mercury have extreme temperatures – where the average temperature is more than 400 degree Celcius, way hotter than a cooking oven. All planets in the outer solar system starting with Jupiter are made of gas – not silicates or rocks – and are inhabitable cold. Compared to that, Mars is hospitable in terms of temperature, with an approximate range between 20 degrees Celcius at the Equator to minus 125 degrees Celcius at the poles.

Considering these, the NASA Perseverance addresses both these critical themes around Mars – the search for life, and a future human mission to the Red planet.

Also Read: Now you can actually drink the rocket fuel


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