Perseverance: One Year on the Martian Surface

Perseverance takes a “selfie” with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars at Octavia E. Butler Landing within Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. One of the key objectives of the mission is astrobiological, and Jezero Crater, which contained a lake that was fed by rivers billions of years ago, is an ideal location to search for remnant signatures of ancient microbial life. Perseverance will also study the geology and past climate history of Mars and is collecting samples of rock and dust that will be cached for eventual retrieval and return to Earth.

Perseverance has faced several challenges in its first year on Mars. Its first attempt at drilling a rock core was unsuccessful, necessitating a study back on Earth to better understand how to handle fragile rocks. Several pebbles that had fallen into the rover’s sampling system also had to be cleaned out. Still, under the management of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Perseverance has remained true to its name. The rover has collected six rock cores that, when they are returned to Earth, will allow scientists to search for minute signs of past life and calibrate the crater-based system for estimating the ages of the martian surface. Perseverance has also generated oxygen from the thin martian atmosphere with the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) technology demonstration and served as a home base for NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which has completed 20 successful flights despite having been scheduled for only five.

As Perseverance begins the second year of its mission, it is heading west to a fan-shaped delta formed as an ancient river emptied into Jezero Crater. Deltas accumulate sediment over time, which could include trapped organic matter and potential biosignatures. By studying and sampling this feature, Perseverance could determine whether Mars ever hosted life in its past. READ MORE