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ASU scientists helped land rover 'Perseverance' on the surface of Mars

Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 11:24:56-05

An Arizona State professor had a major role in the development of the latest rover to land on Mars.

On Thursday afternoon, NASA successfully landed a rover named "Perseverance" on the surface of Mars. The rover landed in Jezero Crater, a 28-mile wide impact crater where it is believed an ancient lake and delta once sat an estimated 3.5 billion years ago.

The landing, the most critical part of Perseverance's journey, was deemed "7 Minutes of Terror." Seven minutes -- the time it takes for the rover to travel from the ends of the planet's atmosphere to the ground itself.

"We’re going to be entering the Martian atmosphere around 12,000-13,000 mph and we need to touch down on the Martian surface at just a couple of miles an hour so we don’t crash," said Rachel Kronyak, JPL Operations System Engineer at NASA. “Perseverance is the most sophisticated and by far the largest rover that we’ve ever sent to Mars.”

Without a hitch, Perseverance landed on Mars successfully and will begin the rest of its lifespan roaming the red planet, looking for evidence of biological life. One of the most important components on the rover is the incredible camera-system, Mastcam-Z, that was designed, built, and tested by scientists at Arizona State University.

Mastcam-Z is a mast-mounted camera system, with the most cameras ever sent to Mars on one rover, that can take high-definition video, panoramic and 3D photos. Leading the Mastcam-Z team is Dr. Jim Bell, a professor at ASU.

"They are the main scientific eyes of the rover," said Bell. "They can see wide in stereo and telephoto in stereo."

“These are going to be our opportunity to take some really fantastic images of the scenery around us," said Kronyak.

The camera unit will be turned on Friday, and its main job will be identifying rocks for possible lab collection and signs of past ancient life, including at its landing site, Jezero Crater.

"We landed within about a mile, a mile and a quarter, of this beautiful riverbed delta and tall cliffs of layered rock from this ancient stream that was flowing down this crater," said Bell. "So this a place where there could be evidence of that early environment preserved, maybe even biologic evidence if there was ever life there."

This weekend, Mastcam-Z will be on and will begin taking panoramic pictures and videos of the surrounding landscape. Bell and his colleagues will be monitoring the camera and its returning imagery from the campus of ASU.

Perseverance will spend the rest of its life on Mars. Bell, along with NASA, hopes to send a manned mission to Mars in the future to meet up with the rover and bring collected samples back to Earth.