By Cody Roark
On Tuesday, the Mars 2020 rover passed its first driving test. Members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California performed an assessment of the newest rover’s operating capabilities. It did exactly as it was supposed to checking boxes, moving forward, backward, and pirouetting in NASA’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility clean room. It’s official, Mars 2020 has acquired its driving license!
The next time this rover will be driving it will be across the surface of Mars. According to NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission, “The Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize Mars’ climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. It is scheduled to land in an area of Mars known as Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.”
The new rover is scheduled for launch to our neighboring planet in either July or August of 2020. Mars 2020 has been designed to more self-sufficient than any of its predecessors. With its high-resolution camera, sophisticated image processing software, map making capabilities, auto-navigation software, and high-durability wheels the rover will be able to make much farther drives per Martian day.
Mars 2020 should average around 650 feet a day. The current travel distance record, held by the Opportunity rover, is 702 feet in one Martian day. NASA’s hope is that Mars 2020 will be able to come close to that record every single day on planet.
Tuesday’s test went on for over 10 hours for the Mars 2020 rover. Its systems performed quite well and NASA’s engineers are excited to see how it performs on the red planet. “A rover needs to rove, and Mars 2020 did that yesterday,” said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. “We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.” Following the test earlier in the week, it appears as though Mars 2020 will be doing just that.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The mission hopes to answer key questions about potential life on Mars by exploring possible habitable conditions and searching for signs of past microbial life. The rover is equipped with a drill designed for collecting core samples of rocks and soils thatseem promising for furthering this research. The Mars 2020 mission also hopes to address the concerns and challenges of a future human-led expedition to the surface of the planet. Challenges such as producing oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere, identifying other resources like water, improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on our neighboring planet.
It appears as though we should prepare for the future as NASA and the Mars 2020 rover attempt to lead the charge there!