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NASA set to return to Mars with new rover ‘Perseverance’

Having bid farewell to the Mars rover in 2019, NASA is revisiting the Red Planet in 2021 with its most sophisticated vehicle to date, ‘Perseverance’.

America’s chief space agency is set to embark on a new adventure to Mount Sharp, a huge summit on Mars, and the expedition will be carried out by a new and improved iteration of the 2019 rover called Perseverance.

Dubbed the new rover’s ‘summer road trip’ in an official statement, the upcoming mission will see Perseverance revisit a three-mile tall mountain to take up where the last machine left off; collecting rocks for analysis and searching for signs of ancient microbial life.

Located on the floor of a 96-mile-wide equatorial crater believed to have once been a lake some three billion years ago, the mountain stands potentially harbouring vital clues to prove the planet was once inhabitable. At least that’s what scientists are hoping, having sunk 14 years of research and billions of dollars into the hypothesis.

Upon touchdown in 2021, Perseverance will be tasked with characterising the planet’s geology and climate while collecting samples of sediment from Mount Sharp and the surrounding area – which is thought to hold various sulfates indicative of water evaporation including Gypsum and Epsom salt. If this is indeed the case, the wheeled machine’s return in 2030 could seal one of the biggest breakthroughs of the century.

However, NASA will know all too well that the process is anything but simple and hitches are all but guaranteed along the way. To ensure that the rover has the best chance of completing the lengthy road trip in one piece, it has been built from the ground up with automated technology to detect the presence of rough terrain and deep sand as it traverses.

Lead rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Matt Gildner, conceded that the rover ‘can’t drive entirely without humans in the loop,’ but revealed that ‘it does have the ability to make simple decisions along the way.’

The magnitude of the rover’s task has been encapsulated perfectly by the name Perseverance, which was chosen from an entry list of over 28,000 public essays. Covid-19 brought forward a whole host of logistical problems in the build up to the project for NASA, but the team’s determination and resilience to push the build means that everything is on track for launch before the end of August. The name is a fitting homage to those who hunkered down to get it done.

A seven-month cruise toward the Red Planet will see Perseverance touch down around mid-February according to engineers, and built in cameras will feed directly to the NASA website.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be sat with a VR headset on blaring the Red Dwarf theme when that day comes.