Following the successful touchdown of NASA’s Perseverance on the surface of Mars, consider this an extraterrestrial education. From Mars Attacks To Britney Spears, your mission is to soak up as much as you can just in case space exploration is possible in the future.
In July 2020, the rest of the world focused its geeked up gaze and telescopes to the launch of Perseverance, the latest rover that was set to explore the mysterious red planet in our solar system. With 293 million miles of interplanetary space and 7 minutes of terror to safely descend onto the surface of the Jezero Crater, the NASA mission purpose is to search for astrobiological evidence of ancient microbial life, as well as carry with it a scientific bounty of possibilities aboard the ninth spacecraft destined for Mars.
From T-minus 10 seconds to traversing space for 203 days, NASA has confirmed the successful touchdown of its most advanced nuclear-powered rover on Mars on February 19, 2021. After puncturing through the planet’s atmospohere and going in for the supersonic plunge, the safe landing signals a new era of exploration. Unprecedented in its efforts, it will not only scope out the surface of Mars, but it will also spend the next two years searching for fossils of ancient alien life and recording sounds on the red planet, as well as test technology that could potentially send astronauts through its interplanetary helicopter.
How infinitely cool is that?
A pivotal moment for NASA and for space exploration, this mission to Mars is important to further understanding what is bigger than all of us combined. “The question of whether there’s life beyond Earth is one of the most fundamental and essential questions we can ask,” ponders NASA geologist Katie Stack Morgan. “Our ability to ask this question and develop the scientific investigations and technology to answer it is one of the things that make us as a species so unique.”
Following its descent to Mars, Perseverance has sent back the first images of what stands to be the beginning of an epic adventure. On the cusp of discoveries and possibly rewriting history, the initial risk was well worth it as the rover has found its forever home. Now, the real work begins for this mission to Mars, which stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, Curiosity and InSight.
"Samples from Mars have potential to profoundly change our understanding of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system," explains Lori Glaze, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "Even now, NASA continues to study moon samples returned by the Apollo program more than 50 years ago. We expect samples of Mars to provide new knowledge for decades to come."
Despite its groundbreaking scientific and technical genesis, there is a lot more riding on the metal frame of Perseverance. As its name suggests, it inadvertently embodies the spirit of persisting despite whatever danger lies in the uncharted territory. Even if we are talking about a red planet at a great distance from us, it couldn’t come at a more opportune time in our history.
Perseverance Act On Mars
Apart from exploring and navigating the terrain of Earth’s neighbor, collecting core samples of rock and regolith (aka broken rocks and dust), Perseverance carries with it 10.9 million names etched on a microchip aboard on top of the rover, all of which were listed to join the liftoff in what still stands to be an exciting capacity. With this mission to Mars, Perseverance also features a 3-by-5 inch aluminum plate installed on the left side of its chassis, bearing the symbol of Earth with a serpent intertwined around a rod to represent the global medical community—a fitting tribute to health care workers and front liners around the world carrying on with its mission to save the world from the persistent pandemic.
"We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others," details Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA, in a statement. "It is our hope that when future generations travel to Mars and happen upon our rover, they will be reminded that back on Earth in the year 2020 there were such people.”
No, there was no sighting of Britney Spears sauntering in the middle of the red planet in an equally sizzling red latex bodysuit, nor was there a cavorting with an astronaut. However, functioning as an extension of living vicariously through a rigorously trained spacecraft, there was definitely a lot of drummed up anticipation and excitement to this particular launch of the mission to Mars. At least this way, some will have already lived their dormant dreams of becoming a galactic emissary, taking part of the complex mission to find signs of ancient life in the mysterious red planet.
While Perseverance has safely landed, NASA is already working towards its next expedition to Mars, opening up the Sign Up Your Name To Mars program for anyone who wants to join in on the fun and live out a fantasy of jetting off to outer space. Ahead of setting out into space, the future NASA-led mission to Mars has already recorded 10,932,295 listed names as of this writing. Not that we could blame the sheer number that is presumably growing in exponential increments, it looks like we really want out of this country, because Houston, we have problems. Can anyone blame us?
While the next astronomical flight out of the planet is scheduled on July 2026, the next five years is still quite the long wait. In the meantime, before our names get to blast off into outer space and onto Mars, here is a list of red planet pop culture moments that we should be familiar with. Who knows, if life’s trajectory sees us inhabiting it in the future, because while there is still much to learn, at least we know what to expect, right?
BRB, setting our alarms for the next NASA mission to Mars in 3, 2, 1…and we have liftoff.