With just over a month to go until the planned launch of NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover, the mission’s countdown has proved trickier than most. With much of the world forced to shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic, NASA officials have tried to keep the Perseverance rover, as well as the recent historic commercial crew launch, on track whilst keeping colleagues safe.
But as NASA staff donned 3D cinema glasses in place of high-tech goggles at home and implemented extra cleaning measures on site, their thoughts were with those at the frontline of our battle with this deadly disease – healthcare workers. Therefore, in honor of those working to keep us safe in these unprecedented times, the Mars 2020 team have attached a commemorative plate onto their rover.
The image depicts a serpent-entwined rod, an ancient symbol representative of the medical community, supporting Earth, with the rover’s trajectory around the planet on its journey to Mars mapped out. The 8-by-13-centimeter (3-by-5-inch) aluminum plate has been installed between the middle and rear wheels on the left side of the rover chassis.
“We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others,” Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said 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.”
Despite the logistical problems posed by the current pandemic, NASA is aiming to launch its Perseverance rover on July 20. However, if this year’s summer window is missed, the rover will have to be placed in storage until the next launch opportunity comes around 26 months later in September 2022. Speaking at a press conference on June 17, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that that would cost “half a million dollars” and seriously impact the long-term objectives of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program.
All being well, the rover will land in Mars’ Jezero Crater, believed to be the site of an ancient lake, on February 18, 2021. The car-sized spacecraft will then begin to investigate the geology of its surroundings and ultimately assess its past habitability. As well as flying the first-ever helicopter on another planet, Perseverance will collect the first samples of Martian rock and regolith that will be returned to Earth at a later date.
As the launch window draws ever closer, the spacecraft is set to be attached to the top of the Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 next week. We will continue to keep our fingers crossed that the rover will be able to make its 505 million kilometers (314 million miles) journey to Mars soon.