NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars

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Good morning, Scientists from Planet Earth will land another mission on Mars today. NASA calls the rover perseverance. NPR's science correspondent Joe Palka has been following this one. Good morning, Joe. Morning, Noel, Can we talk about the logistics of this? They have to get a hurtling projectile toe land safely on Mars. How is this done? Yeah. What's the big trick? It's going 12,000 MPH, and they have two landed it two MPH. No problem. Well, what happens is they're overs packed up into something called the Aero Shell, which hits the top of the atmosphere on Mars and Atmosphere slows the craft down and it's friction heats up. That's why there's a heat shield, but that does slow it down quite a bit. But then there's a giant. Parachute that slows it down further and then finally, there's something called the Sky Crane, which is a jet pack that flies over the landing site to the landing site, then lowers the rover down on a tether and then cuts the cord and flies away. But the interesting thing is, this is the same landing system that the last rover used called curiosity. But it's been made more up to date by the fact that it's got this smart landing system so that you can actually look for Ah, good place to land. If it doesn't like the first place it picks the confide to the next one. What is modern is all the computers and navigation systems are on this new rover. The design of the rocket engines on the sky Crane is actually 50 years old. Believe it or not, those engines all trace their way back to the Viking Landers. That's Joe Cassidy, He's executive director for space at Arrow Jet Rocket die in the company that makes the rocket engine. The Viking missions landed on Mars in the mid seventies, and Cassidy says the rocket designed depended on a special valve that made it possible to vary the Rockets thrust. Funny part is back in the seventies, We had a supplier that actually developed that forest with J. P L came back to us in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century and said, We want you to do that again. That supplier was no longer in business. But luckily they were able to find an alternate supplier who would make the valve for them. Very luckily, what is perseverance looking for on Mars? Well, it's landing in a place called Jez zero Crater, which was they think a lake bed 3.5 or Lake 3.5 billion years ago, And the idea is there might might might have been microbes in the lake. So there'll be cameras on the rover that will study the appearance of rocks looking for things like stromatolites, which are structures left behind by mats of bacteria. They're also instruments on the rover that will measure the chemical and mineral composition of the rocks at the landing site, and Nina Lanza is a geologist at Los Alamos National Lab and the scientists on one of those instruments called super Camp. See, this is the kind of thing that a geologist needs right. We need both chemistry. What's in Iraq and mineralogy how it's arranged. So knowing those things tells a lot about the conditions under which the rock form then whether or not those conditions were conducive to life. I asked this excitedly. Could we be getting news soon, saying that there was life on Mars? Well, it's one of those news stories where people get very excited, but they will also say I'm from Missouri proof show me so that's actually the idea of this. They may see things that look like there might have been life there. But they say to confirm that they have to bring the rocks back to Earth. And in fact, that's what this mission is going to do. It's going to collect samples that a future mission will return to Earth. Okay. NPR Mars correspondent Joe Palka.

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