11 questions about the NASA Mars Rover answered

The NASA Perseverance Rover landed at Mars’ Jezero Crater yesterday (February 18). But what has it been sent to do and how many rovers have explored Mars so far? In this article, we answer all these questions and more…

How many Rovers have been sent to Mars so far?

NASA has sent five robotic vehicles, called Rovers, to Mars. The names of them are (in order): Sojourner, Spirit,  Opportunity, Curiosity, and – now – Perseverance.

When did the first Rover land on Mars?

Sojourner landed on the red planet on July 4th 1997, before communication was lost a couple of months later (September 7th, 1997). 

What happened to the others?

Landing on Mars on January 4th, 2004, Spirit remained in communication with earth until March 22nd, 2010 when it got stuck in a sand trap. Curiosity, which was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, is still operational at the time of writing (February 19, 2021). The last one – Opportunity – was ‘declared dead’ on February 13th 2019 after a record-breaking 15 years on the planet. 

What launch vehicle did this spacecraft use?

Perseverance rode atop an Atlas V-541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 

Why is the rover called Perseverance?

A seventh-grade US student, Alexander Mather, won a nationwide essay contest to name the rover. Perseverance is the latest in a long line of Red Planet rovers to be named by school-age children. The first, Sojourner, in 1997 got its name from American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth

How long does it take to get to Mars?

The trip to Mars takes about 7 months. Perseverance set off on its epic journey on July 30th, 2020

How does Perseverance land in the right spot?

A few trajectory, or flight path, corrections are needed. During the cruise phase, engineers have various opportunities to adjust the flight path. During these trajectory correction manoeuvres (TCMs), engineers calculate the spacecraft’s location and command eight thrusters on the cruise stage to fire for the specific amount of time needed to tweak the flight path. For more information, see “Fine-Tuning the Flight Path to Mars.”

How big is the Perseverance?

About the size of a car: 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters x 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall). At 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms), Perseverance is about 278 pounds (126 kilograms) heavier than the previous Rover, Curiosity.

What’s the main role of Perseverance?

Designed to better understand the geology of Mars and seek signs of ancient life, its main role is to collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth in the future. It will also test new technology to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars.

How long is it expected to spend on the planet? 

Perseverance has initial funding from NASA to operate for one Mars year (687 Earth days).

What instruments is Perseverance carrying on board?

Perseverance is carrying an advanced payload of science instruments to gather information about Mars’ geology, atmosphere, environmental conditions and potential biosignatures. This includes the following: 

  • Mastcam-Z: An advanced camera system to help study surface minerals
  • MEDA: A Spanish-built sensor suite to measure temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, humidity and dust
  • MOXIE: Experiment to demonstrate how astronauts might produce oxygen from Martian CO2 for breathing and fuel
  • PIXL: An X-ray spectrometer to identify chemical elements and a camera that takes close-up images of rock and soil textures
  • RIMFAX: A Norwegian-built ground-penetrating radar that will map geology beneath the surface at centimetre scales
  • SHERLOC: Will use spectrometers, a laser and camera to hunt for organics and minerals that were altered by water
  • SuperCam: Will examine rock and soil with a camera, laser and spectrometers to look for organic compounds
Chris Price