Throughout the rover’s development, its journey to Mars, its white-fisted landing and ambitious surface mission so far, the Perseverance team has risen to new challenges. “It’s the most complex robotic system we’ve ever sent to another planet,” said Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It must drive autonomously five times faster than any other Martian rover and use its scientific instruments to carefully select and then collect over 30 samples for pickup by a future mission.”
Perseverance brought seven new scientific instruments to Mars, including a technological demonstration to generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, as well as the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
Additionally, “after all the planning, design and most of the construction of the spacecraft, we have had to drastically change the way we work due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Trosper said. To stay safe, most of the team (including Trosper) telecommuted. “We had to finish development and testing, as well as get this complex rover to work, with a lot of the team working remotely. It was almost to the point that you were wondering, “Is this really doable?” “But we just kept moving forward, tackling any problem that arose head-on and overcoming each challenge one by one,” she said.
Now, the team wants to encourage the next generation to persevere in the same way – to embrace the idea of overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. As part of “You’ve Got Perseverance”, the rover will praise students for their persistence in their studies using its “Seq. Echo capability.
When sending instructions to Perseverance, engineers can order the rover to send a message back to Earth. NASA’s Curiosity rover, on Mars since 2012, used the method to “accommodate” Perseverance when it landed. “We also wanted to give some young students the opportunity to talk to our team and ask questions,” Trosper said.
When the personalized messages are delivered from March, students will have the opportunity to share the experience with their families and classes via live video chat with members of the Perseverance rover team in Mission Control at JPL. Trosper hopes that putting students in touch with his team will help them see how scientists and engineers also deal with difficult situations and succeed through persistence.
Some of the ways the rover team persevered:
Heat shield: Perseverance would use a spare heat shield from the Curiosity mission to protect the spacecraft as it descended on fire through the Martian atmosphere. But during testing it cracked and could not be fixed. The team had to figure out why it broke, and then design a new one – a process that took about seven months. Meanwhile, time is running out for the mission launch period, scheduled to make the most of the Earth and Mars alignment. A missed launch period would have meant waiting over two years for the next opportunity.
During the journey to Mars
Computer memory: During the spacecraft’s cruise to Mars, galactic cosmic rays (high-energy background particles in space) corrupted some of the main computer’s unused memory. This happened more frequently than during the Curiosity rover mission, and whenever it did, operations were temporarily halted in order to swap computers so the team could reset the main computer and eliminate corruption. If this had happened near landing, they would have had very little time to reconfigure the computer system to remove the corruption. The team therefore prepared a contingency plan for this possibility. Fortunately, the problem did not occur near the landing.
Once on mars
First rock sample attempt: Perseverance found an intriguing stone for the first attempt at sampling. The team ordered the rover to drill into the rock, take a sample and store it in a sealed tube. The first images suggested a successful core sample, sparking a celebration in the control room. But when more data revealed the sample was not inside the tube, the team set out to solve this Martian mystery.
They quickly realized that the rock was too weathered and friable, its sample shattered into small fragments and was not contained in the sample tube. The team were happy to have at least collected a sample of the Martian atmosphere and took the opportunity to start investigating how to collect samples of poorly consolidated rocks like this, which were not part of the program of original test.
Still ongoing on Earth, this work could eventually lead to another way of collecting samples of these rocks on Mars. Meanwhile, the mission has so far collected four core samples in addition to the atmospheric sample.
“Mars always surprises you, but you work on it and go to the other side,” Trosper said.
Nomination windows for the “You have perseverance” award are planned throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Selection will be by lot, with applications being screened to ensure they meet the criteria. All nominated students can receive a certificate to recognize their perseverance.
Find out how to nominate students on:
Learn more about the mission
A key focus of Perseverance’s mission to Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the past geology and climate of the planet, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (shattered rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples on the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., Built and manages the operations of the Perseverance rover.
To find out more about Perseverance:
A mission-related STEM toolkit is also available: