Last Friday marked one Earth year since NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter landed on Mars. The Museum of Flight in Seattle is the first site to display the full-size replicas of NASA’s rover and helicopter, and both are featured this weekend at the museum as part of a celebration of birthday.
Dr. Melissa Rice kicked off the weekend’s events by talking about the mission, which aims to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples. Rice, an associate professor of planetary science at Western Washington University, works on the rover’s Mastcam-Z imaging system, the first set of zoom cameras on the Red Planet.
Rice was working the “Martian night shift,” which meant gradually pushing back her sleep schedule by 60 to 90 minutes each night to process what the rover collected during the Martian day. It surprised some of her friends and neighbors when they saw her wide awake at times when she normally wouldn’t be.
Rice said her favorite part of the mission is seeing the images immediately as they are uploaded.
Some analysis is done by the rover itself, but Perseverance is also a sample caching rover. The first sample tube Perseverance collected turned out to be empty, which disappointed the team, Rice said. However, it also worked because the researchers needed an atmospheric sample.
A decade from now, a proposed sample return lander will collect the samples left behind by Perseverance and launch them into orbit in a Mars ascent rocket.
Retrieving the samples from the surface will involve the first rocket launched from Mars. The proposed third phase would involve a Mars orbiter capturing the sample capsule that was launched from the surface and then returning it to Earth.
Museums Perseverance: first year events continue throughout the weekend. The models remain on display for museum visitors until April 3.
Another NASA anniversary this weekend: Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of America’s first orbital spaceflight. On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn piloted the Mercury capsule of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, nicknamed Friendship 7, three times around the earth. A reproduction of the Mercury capsule can be seen at the museum.