The NASA Mission Mars 2020 was launched on July 30th, 2020. The Perseverance Rover and its companionate Mars Helicopter are scheduled to land on the red planet on February 18th, 2021. The landing site for Perseverance is the Jezero Crater. This specific site was chosen in part because it is a former lake and delta that is rich in clays. The diameter of the crater is 30.4 miles. Because of the presence of clay in the Jezero Delta, it is believed the water once flowing there could have harbored life. The main mission of the Perseverance Rover is to search for signs of ancient life. It is hoped that a future mission could return samples from sites containing ancient martian remains.
A secondary goal of the Mars 2020 Mission is to test new technology that could benefit future human and robotic exploration of Mars. Chief among these technologies is the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, which will arrive on Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance Rover on February 18th. If Ingenuity is successful in taking off and landing after arriving on the red planet, it will be the first powered flight on Mars.
The goal of the Ingenuity’s mission is to test and complete one or more flights within thirty days. Remember Nasa’s last famous rover Opportunity? Opportunity’s mission was supposed to last 90 days, but the rover outlived its mission and its twin rover by 15 years. Hopefully the Mars helicopter Ingenuity will enjoy such longevity. Mars has about 1/3 of the gravity of Earth and its atmosphere is just 1% as thick. A successful demonstration of powered flight on Mars will enable future scientists to robotically scout areas too steep or rocky for rovers to travel and to possibly carry small payloads and resources.
At the time of this writing, the Perseverance Rover and the Ingenuity Helicopter are traveling at 48, 027 miles per hour. They have traveled 288, 032, 400 miles, with 4,493,600 miles left to reach Mars. The journey is 98.45% complete. Tune in Thursday to watch the landing!