FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 01, 2021
Share a fact about Mars.
List at least two school subjects used daily by NASA team members.
Read another science or technology article and describe its topic.
High-definition images and valuable data are being transmitted from Mars to California, thanks to an unmanned landing on the planet that's 133 million miles away. A NASA spacecraft called Perseverance rover, launched last July, touched down gently on the Martian surface Feb. 18 – a tense process watched on live video at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Space agency engineers and scientists from the nearby California Institute of Technology cheered and elbow-bumped the picture-perfect arrival, aided by a massive parachute. "It was a dream come true," project scientist Ken Williford said. The touchdown marks NASA's ninth successful landing on the planet out of 10 tries.
The rolling rover's main mission, lasting one Martian year (two Earth years), is to investigate ancient environments that may have supported some type of life in the very distant past. Scientists think the landing area, picked after a five-year study of more than 60 potential sites, was flooded with water 3.8 billion years ago and may have had geothermal springs. Video and still images show what looks like a fossilized river delta, created as muddy water spilled into a crater -- ideal for preserving signs of microbial life. This is the first mission to collect Martian rocks and dust that will be retrieved by two follow-up missions for return to Earth. Samples will provide clues to the past climate, a timeline of events and prepare for eventual human exploration of Mars, known as the red planet.
Mission controllers will direct the six-wheeled vehicle to spots for drilling and digging to gather samples. An external robotic arm will perform those tasks, while an internal one will take handoffs of materials from the surface. There's also a small helicopter, named Ingenuity, which survived the landing attached to the rover's belly. With a fuselage the size of a tissue box and weighing about four pounds, it will record images and scout terrain for Perseverance's travels.
Mission scope: Astrobiology, the study of whether extraterrestrial life exists and to detect it. This field uses geology, molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, chemistry and astronomy.
NASA engineer says: "Everything is coming back exactly how we want it to." – Jessica Samuels, a manager at the Jet Propulsion Lab
Journalist writes: "We needed this moment. . . . They did it. We did it. In a year of seemingly endless bad news -- and even more as the pandemic continues and winter storms impact much of the country -- something wonderful was achieved." – Ashley Strickland, CNN space and science correspondent