After years of development and seven months in space, NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars today, kicking off what we can only hope will be years of groundbreaking science. NASA used Curiosity as a model for this new robot, but its instrument suite is upgraded to scour the red planet for signs of ancient life. This mission will also be the first leg in a three-part process to get bits of Mars back to Earth for more intense study. And it all starts today.
Being so closely related to Curiosity, we knew what to expect from the landing. As Perseverance approached the planet, NASA handed over control to the spacecraft’s onboard systems. Mars is too far away to control the descent in real-time, so the team had to sit through “seven minutes of terror” as they waited to get the all-clear from the rover. The team called out milestones as the spacecraft headed for the surface, and eventually, the rover landed safe and sound. The room erupted into applause the moment Perseverance reported in.
Landing on Mars is surprisingly complicated. There’s an atmosphere, but it’s not thick enough to slow down a rover the size of Perseverance with just parachutes or airbags. To assure a soft landing, NASA used the same sky crane system employed in 2012 to get Curiosity situated on Mars. The rocket-powered sled hovered over the surface, lowered the rover on cables, and then flew off to crash into the surface a safe distance away.
Hello, world. My first look at my forever home. #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/dkM9jE9I6X
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 18, 2021
Perseverance is now in Jezero Crater, which was a lake several billion years in the past. The long-dead river that fed the lake left a delta, and scientists believe this is one of the best places to look for evidence of ancient life. Perseverance has the tools to do a lot of investigation on Mars, but it’s also going to be drilling core samples to store in special sterile tubes. Eventually, a second mission will collect the tubes and launch them into orbit. Then, a third mission will scoop them up and return to Earth. These follow-up missions are still in the planning phase, but NASA believes the samples could be on Earth in about a decade.
After getting its bearings, Perseverance will scout out a suitable location to deploy the Ingenuity helicopter. This is just a technology demonstration that won’t aid Perseverance in its mission, but it could pave the way for advanced aerial assets on future missions. We expect the first high-resolution images from Perseverance will arrive in the coming days. Maybe it’ll even be a selfie.
Android 12 Could Include Major App Compatibility Improvements
Google has attempted to centralize chunks of Android over the years, and a major component called ART is set to get this treatment in Android 12. The result could be vastly improved app compatibility, which is sure to make everyone happy.
Microsoft Promises Big Improvements for the Surface Duo in 2021
The $1,400 dual-screen device hasn't been in the news much since its release, but now Microsoft is promising a big year ahead for the Duo. More apps are rolling out Duo integration, and you'll be able to get the phone in more countries.
Hardware Accelerators May Dramatically Improve Robot Response Times
If we want to build better robots, we need them to be faster at planning their own motion. A new research team thinks it's invented a combined hardware/software deployment method that can cut existing latencies in half.
NASA Releases Incredible Perseverance Rover Landing Video
NASA's Perseverance rover has been on the surface of Mars for several days, giving the team here on Earth time to run system checks and download preliminary data from the robot. The agency has now released the first large batch of media from the mission, including hundreds of still images and the first video and audio ever recorded on Mars.