A mission 10 years in the making, NASA is one month out from launching the Perseverance rover to Mars. This rover, launching during a pandemic, will carry a tribute to health care workers around the world.
The 3-by-5-inch aluminum plate, installed on the left side of the rover chassis, shows Earth supported by the ancient symbol of the serpent entwined around a rod to represent the global medical community. A line represents the rover’s trajectory from Central Florida to Mars, according to NASA.
“We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others,” said Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
“It is our hope that when future generations travel to Mars and happen upon our rover, they will be reminded that back on Earth in the year 2020 there were such people.”
When Alexander Mather, a seventh grade student in Virginia, entered his submission in a nationwide contest last year to name the rover, a pandemic wasn’t on the horizon. But his winning entry for Perseverance has proven to be the perfect name for a rover launching during unprecedented times.
These last few months of preparing the rover for launch have happened during the constraints of safe operation during a pandemic. But the teams rose to the challenge, and the launch remains on schedule.
“The team never wavered in its pursuit of the launch pad,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. “It was through their dedication and the help of other NASA facilities that we have made it this far.”
The launch window opens on July 20 and extends until August 11, in case bad weather or other issues prevent the 9:15 a.m. ET launch on July 20. That date has been projected since the rover was announced in December 2012.
But launching during this window is critical during a time when Mars and Earth are on the same side of the sun, otherwise the spacecraft could be delayed from launching for two years until September 22.
The delay would cost the agency $500 million and impact the long-term goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“I hope people watch this mission and that they’re inspired that we can strive and achieve even in the midst of challenging times,” he said during a NASA press conference on Wednesday.
The July 20 date has other significance; it’s when NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.
“Fifty-one years ago today, NASA was deep into final preparations for the first Moon landing,” Bridenstine said. “Today we stand at the threshold of another monumental moment in exploration: sample collection at Mars.
“As we celebrate the heroes of Apollo 11 today, future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance — not only for what they will achieve 100 million miles from home, but for what they were able to accomplish on this world on the road to launch.”
New firsts on Mars
Perseverance is targeted to land in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. The crater is 28 miles wide and the site of a lake that existed 3.5 billion years ago. Traces of a river delta can be seen in images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And the rover may be able to find signs of ancient life in this intriguing location on Mars.