Perseverance Sends its First Image from the Red Planet

Perseverance rover (with the Ingenuity helicopter tucked underneath) landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars today at 3:55 pm, took its first picture and promptly sent it back toward Earth. It took all of 14 minutes for the signal to reach us.

Perseverance rover

Perseverance rover

The Mars 2020 mission spacecraft is carrying the most cameras ever to deep space. 23 are part of the 2020 Mars mission (which includes the Perseverance rover), and 2 are on the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. The 2-kg helicopter is a first for any space mission and its only mission is to prove that it is possible to fly in the rarefied Mars atmosphere. It features six li-ion batteries charged by a solar panel. Max flight time? 90 second.

On July 30, 2020, Persevenrance lifted off in an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket and it took about 7 months to travel from Earth to Mars. Perseverance will use its robotic arms to drill down into the now-dried lake surface and collect samples that it will store inside its rotating carousel sample caching system, before being then transferred to one of 42 slots in the belly of the rover. Later, Perseverance will drop off these samples in special tubes at another designated location for another Mars mission to pick up and take back to Earth — another first. When will that happen? Probably in 2026, when another rover from the ESA (European Space Agency) will land on Mars, pick up the sample tubes, deliver them to a Mars ascent vehicle which will blast the samples into orbit to be picked up by an ESA Earth return vehicle.

Going back to those cameras on the rover, they must be weather resistant, as in really weather resistant, no ifs, ands or buts, no small print disclaimers allowed. Not only do they have to withstand the dust on Mars, but because the average temperature on the surface of Mars is -53°C (-64°F), they also need to be freeze-proof.

Perseverance looks like a six-legged (wheeled), two-headed metallic creature with intelligence. Indeed, while the Curiosity rover had to constantly stop and get manual help from its Earth-bound human controllers, Perseverance features optical sensors that continuously feed data to its machine-learning vision algorithm that will enable its ground navigation system to autonomously learn and find its own path through the rough terrain of Mars.

High-definition color cameras include the Supercam (Laser Micro-Imager) and the Mastcam-Z (Panoramic cameras). There is also a microphone that will send sound back to Earth.