NASA’s Perseverance Rover Begins Its First Science Campaign on Mars


NASA’s Perseverance Rover Begins Its First Science Campaign on Mars

Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z imaging system captured this 360-degree panorama
Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z imaging system captured this 360-degree panorama at “Van Zyl Overlook,” where the rover parked during Ingenuity helicopter’s first flights. The 2.4-billion-pixel panorama consists of 992 images stitched together.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The six-wheeled scientist is heading south to explore Jezero Crater’s lakebed in search of signs of ancient microbial life.

On June 1, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover kicked off the science phase of its mission by leaving the “Octavia E. Butler” landing site. Until recently, the rover has been undergoing systems tests, or commissioning, and supporting the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s month of flight tests.

During the first few weeks of this first science campaign, the mission team will drive to a low-lying scenic overlook from which the rover can survey some of the oldest geologic features in Jezero Crater, and they’ll bring online the final capabilities of the rover’s auto-navigation and sampling systems.

This image looking west toward the Séítah geologic unit on Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight, on May 22, 2021.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By the time Perseverance completed its commissioning phase on June 1, the rover had already tested its oxygen-generating MOXIE instrument and conducted the technology demonstration flights of the Ingenuity helicopter. Its cameras had taken more than 75,000 images, and its microphones had recorded the first audio soundtracks of Mars.

“We are putting the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hitting the road,” said Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Over the next several months, Perseverance will be exploring a 1.5-square-mile [4-square-kilometer] patch of crater floor. It is from this location that the first samples from another planet will be collected for return to Earth by a future mission.”

The science goals of the mission are to study the Jezero region in order to understand the geology and past habitability of the environment in the area, and to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. The team will identify and collect the most compelling rock and sediment samples, which a future mission could retrieve and bring back to Earth for more detailed study. Perseverance will also take measurements and test technologies to support future human and robotic exploration of Mars.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its Mastcam-Z imaging system to capture this 360-degree panorama of “Van Zyl Overlook,” where the rover was parked as the Ingenuity helicopter performed its first flights. The 2.4 billion-pixel panorama is made up of 992 individual images stitched together. The images were taken between April 15 and 26, 2021, or the 53rd and 64th Martian days, or sols, of the mission.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Unique Geology

Spanning hundreds of sols (or Martian days), this first science campaign will pursue all of the mission’s science goals as the rover explores two unique geologic units in which Jezero’s deepest (and most ancient) layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features can be found. The first unit, called “the Crater Floor Fractured Rough,” is the crater-filled floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning “amidst the sand” in the Navajo language), has its fair share of Mars bedrock but is also home to ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes.

“To do justice to both units in the time allotted, the team came up with the Martian version of an old auto club-style map,” said JPL’s Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist and co-lead, along with Vivian Sun, of this science campaign. “We have our route planned, complete with optional turnoffs and labeled areas of interest and potential obstructions in our path.”

Most of the challenges along the way are expected to come in the form of sand dunes located within the mitten-shaped Séítah unit. To negotiate them, the rover team decided Perseverance will drive mostly either on the Crater Floor Fractured Rough or along the boundary line between it and Séítah. When the occasion calls for it, Perseverance will perform a “toe dip” into the Séítah unit, making a beeline for a specific area of interest.

The goal of the campaign is to establish what four locations in these units best tell the story of Jezero Crater’s early environment and geologic history. When the science team decides a location is just right, they will collect one or two samples.

“Starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Seitah geologic units allows us to start our exploration of Jezero at the very beginning,” said Hand. “This area was under at least 100 meters [328 feet] of water 3.8 billion years ago. We don’t know what stories the rocks and layered outcrops will tell us, but we’re excited to get started.”

The first science campaign will be complete when the rover returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and up to eight of Perseverance’s 43 sample tubes could be filled with Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Next, Perseverance will travel north then west toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero’s delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remains of the confluence of an ancient river and a lake within Jezero Crater. The location may be especially rich in carbonates – minerals that, on Earth, can preserve fossilized signs of ancient life and can be associated with biological processes.

The start of Perseverance’s first science campaign also marks a transition on the team: On June 7, Jennifer Trosper became the mission’s new project manager. She succeeds Matt Wallace, who is moving on to become JPL’s Deputy Director for Planetary Science.

“From Sojourner to Spirit and Opportunity to Curiosity to Perseverance, Matt has played key roles in the design, construction, and operations of every Mars rover NASA has ever built,” said Trosper. “And while the project is losing a great leader and trusted friend, we know Matt will continue making great things happen for the planetary science community.”

Annotated image of Jezero Crater
This annotated image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks).Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:

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June 13, 2021 2:59 am

It is surprising that the exposed river delta formation (north of ‘Three Forks’ destination), which must have been at the very bottom of the ancient river that flowed 3.8 billion years ago, is now a mountain ridge. Apparently the surrounding ancient landscape has eroded or flown away into space, exposing the planet’s more durable bedrock layers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Johanus
B Clarke
Reply to  Johanus
June 13, 2021 4:06 am

Apparently the Martians had a problem with climate change ,and then to cap it all they had a thermogedon event, hence the weird geology and no Martians around..😉

Reply to  B Clarke
June 13, 2021 9:30 am

They all migrated to Earth… 🙂

B Clarke
Reply to  beng135
June 13, 2021 10:23 am

Yep I think it was called:” griffs town”

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Johanus
June 13, 2021 1:49 pm

The last 3 billion years on Mars is a uniformitarianist’s dream.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
June 13, 2021 2:30 pm

Yes, but how about that new crater? 13 miles in diameter…’s not Aeolian. Mars looks pretty much the same everywhere…sort of like some Nevada desert….but you gotta love that mysterious eerie haunting music played on some Mars videos.

B Clarke
June 13, 2021 4:01 am

If you listen to the sound clip ,perseverance seems to have transmission problems ( scratchy noise) probably used the wrong transmission oil, and as for the suspension on a relatively flat run ,these guys need to source their parts from a reputable dealer. 🤠🤭

June 13, 2021 4:51 am

Spanning hundreds of sols (or Martian days)

The equivalent of many moons…

Reply to  fretslider
June 13, 2021 9:32 am

And Mars has twice as many moons.

June 13, 2021 6:13 am

Hey all it needs is water, an atmosphere, a magnetic field, and plate tectonics and we’re in business. But soon we will export tax credits there (Musk).

Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2021 7:17 am

Meanwhile, deep below the surface of Mars, there are reports of strange, flying objects about. Some of them even like to fantasize about alien life forms from space.

June 13, 2021 7:36 am

How much are they paying staff that drive this thing? Must be boring; hour after hour, day after day, week after week watching a slow crawling rover advance.

The top of the rover looks like dust will accumulate… Is that a design feature?

B Clarke
Reply to  ATheoK
June 13, 2021 7:52 am

Yes when the boring tool breaks down, perseverance drives two wheels on a big rock ,the tilt causes the dust to flow into a specimen jar, with the added bonus the rock does not need to be broken up. What’s not to like.😉

Tom Abbott
Reply to  ATheoK
June 13, 2021 8:50 am

It wouldn’t be boring to me. I would like seeing what is over the next horizon.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 13, 2021 11:02 pm

Exactly! When the Viking landers returned the first surface images from Mars, my immediate desire was to find out what was on the other side of those rocks. It was probably just the other side of those rocks, but until one looks, who knows?

All of the Mars rovers have returned vast numbers of images rich in information, and Perseverance has (finally) added the dimension of sound.

There is nothing whatsoever boring in this exploration. Nothing.

Tom Abbott
June 13, 2021 8:59 am

I guess Musk and Bezos will be putting people on Mars eventually.

I was watching tv the other day and they were doing a report on Jeff Bezos and his plan to fly into space next month on his new launch vehicle along with his brother, and now a third passenger who bid $28 million for the opportunity.

As I was watching the report they showed a picture of the front of Bezos space headquaters and I noticed he had named it “The O’Neill Building”, which kind of warmed my heart.

Bezos was a student of one of the great space development talents of our time, Gerard K. O’Neil, his professor at Princeton.

O’Neil started Space Studies Institute, among other things.

That’s why I think Bezos ultimate goal is to build an O’Neill Habitat in space eventually. I hope that’s the case. 🙂

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 14, 2021 4:30 am

The first city on Mars – Jonestown.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 14, 2021 2:45 pm


Woulda been funny if his ex had blown that amount of his money on the bid so she could tag along and ruin the trip for them.

Joel O'Bryan
June 13, 2021 1:46 pm

Once NASA JPL gets those Mars samples back on Earth by 2030, the push to put a human up there on a suicide mission will be over for generations. There will be NO compelling reason to go to Mars then, until some giant leap in propulsion technology comes about to allow fast travel and not have to take huge amounts of chemical propellants to get there and back.

John in Oz
June 13, 2021 11:26 pm

How many others are sitting in the comfort of their lounges/offices looking at the surface of Mars in high definition and thinking back to their youth (I’m 71) when the very idea of being on Mars was pure science fiction?

Astonishing progress in such a short time.

Well done all concerned over many years

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