Yesterday, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission launched from Florida atop an Atlas V rocket its precious cargo, the most advanced Mars rover yet. Millions of people around the world are rooting for Perseverance, invested in its journey to explore another world (not least because many have a desire to get off this planet at this point). So a couple of small hiccups that occurred just after launch could have been devastating, not just for the mission, but the world’s morale. Luckily, NASA has confirmed that Perseverance is fine and continues its journey to the Red Planet.
The space agency confirmed on Thursday that the rover briefly went into “safe mode” as it was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth’s shadow. “Safe mode” means a spacecraft turns off all but essential systems until it receives further command from mission control. As NASA explained in a statement, spacecraft are designed to put themselves into safe mode if they encounter conditions not planned for. It confirmed Perseverance is out of Earth’s shadow, temperatures are normal, and it’s on its merry way.
"Right now, the Mars 2020 mission is completing a full health assessment on the spacecraft and is working to return the spacecraft to a nominal configuration for its journey to Mars," the agency said yesterday.
The mission also suffered a second hiccup, a delay in setting up a communications link between the craft and mission control, based at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
The mission launched at 7.50am EDT from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and sent its first signal to ground control at 9.15am, but it was not until 11.30am it established telemetry, which is more detailed spacecraft data. It was this data that confirmed the craft had entered safe mode.
NASA uses a system called the Deep Space Network to communicate with its interplanetary spacecraft; a vast array of giant radio antennas on the ground and orbiting Earth. Designed for deep space, it’s thought the spacecraft was still so close to the system when it sent the signal, it blasted the system a bit and engineers had to adjust the network's setting to process the data coming from the spacecraft.
Perseverance is on track to continue its cold, dark, seven-month journey to the Red Planet to join its companions on what is, as far as we know, the only world entirely inhabited by robots.
"There is still a lot of road between us and Mars," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager at JPL. "About 290 million miles of them. But if there was ever a team that could make it happen, it is this one. We are going to Jezero Crater. We will see you there Feb. 18, 2021."