With the alignment of Mars at the peak for landers, these have been an exciting two weeks in space exploration. The UAE sent their Hope orbiter up to travel around the planet, while the Tainwen explorer from China will orbit for three months before landing.
Perseverance is the fifth NASA rover to land on Mars. Scientists have to time the launch right so that the trip doesn’t take too long, so there are gaps between launches. Sojourner landed in 1997 and used a system of parachutes and air bags to land. It spent time analyzing rocks in the Ares Vallis, discovering igneous, sedimentary and conglomerate rocks indicating a more interesting geologic history than scientists had speculated.
Spirit and Opportunity have been on Mars since 2004 looking for water. Curiosity landed in 2012 looking for evidence that there once could have been life on Mars.
Perseverance just landed in an ancient river delta site. Perseverance is looking for evidence of life, past or present, and studying whether human exploration might be possible. Perseverance can move faster than the other rovers, meaning it can cover more ground. It has 23 cameras and a drill. A unique system has been developed to bring samples back from Mars. Another unique item on this rover is the helicopter included inside! Ingenuity is a test in engineering, also equipped with cameras and testing the design capabilities of engineers wanting to fly on a different planet.
Our students watched the landing, and celebrated along with NASA. We also tried out many of the great activities NASA put together for this event; they were tons of fun and the kids really enjoyed themselves. We built straw rockets and helicopters, made craters in cocoa powder, and created colorful landscapes and pastel art of craters. We ended with an egg drop, where the students were given the chance to design and build on their own lander, test and revise, then finally present their design and then send their eggs off!