Recent Developments in Space Exploration

 By: Elise Thompson

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Photo by: Sonny and Sandy

The world we all know and love seems to be plagued with never-ending issues, whether that be climate change, the coronavirus, or political turmoil. Sometimes it seems as if the earth may be falling apart at our fingertips. Humanity may not be able to solve these pressing problems, but somehow despite all this, we have managed to make breakthrough discoveries in learning more about life on other planets. 

On July 30, 2020, NASA launched the rover Perseverance, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida. After seven months of travel, the rover has successfully made its descent onto Mars, just a few days ago on February 18, 2021. It landed in Jezero Crater, a location specifically picked because of strong evidence that it once contained water. Specifically, located on the edge of the west crater once was a river delta rich in sediments that are ideal for preserving biological material. The purpose of this rover is to look for remnants of ancient life, collect soil and rock samples to bring back to Earth for further examination, and to test potential technologies that could be used in the future for increased exploration of Mars.  

This large rover is well equipped to accomplish these tasks. It was built based on the success of the prior Curiosity Rover, however, Perseverance is much larger. It is about the size of a car and weighs 2,260 pounds, which is about 278 more than Curiosity. The rover stands at about 7 feet tall, 9 feet wide, and 10 feet long. Perseverance is equipped with many different useful tools, for example, an advanced camera system and an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. One of the more interesting technologies it is equipped with is an experiment to produce oxygen from the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. If successful, this then can be used in the future for astronauts visiting mars to burn fuel to return to Earth. It also will be testing Terrain Relative Navigation, which is an autopilot system used to avoid hazards. 

The rover is just starting its ambitious journey, and still has a long way to go. Perseverance will be spending at least 1 Mars year (2 Earth years) exploring the planet's surface. Since its landing, it has already successfully transmitted its first photos back to NASA via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In around a week or two after all its initial software checks are finished, Perseverance will begin its exploration… and who knows what it may find next?