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NASA’s Mars 2020 mission has successfully landed on Mars! But it's not alone! This week we discuss not one but three amazing missions to Mars.

Martian Wind Audio

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[ intro ].

Break out the bubbly, because after a seven-month journey,. NASA’s Mars 2020 mission has successfully landed on Mars!

That’s an Ooh yea. Now I didn’t say the perseverance because this includes the Perseverance rover, along with a couple of additional experiments. And even after only a few days, the mission has already managed to raise some questions — and send back some pretty incredible footage.

First off, that landing was a feat of engineering that took years of preparation. In just seven minutes, the spacecraft had to go from about 20,000 kilometers an hour to, you know, zero kilometers an hour. On Earth, drag in the atmosphere would help with that.

But because Mars’s air is so thin, there’s less drag to slow it down. So, the engineers needed a lot of equipment to stop the mission from just making a new martian crater. That included a huge parachute, rockets, and more.

But slowing down wasn’t the only challenge. The crater Perseverance was headed toward, called Jezero crater, is also a bit more dangerous, terrain-wise than previous missions. There are deep pits, tall cliffs, and big rocks.

So there was less wiggle room for exactly where the rover could touch down. And just to make things more complicated, because of the current distance between Earth and Mars, it takes 11 minutes for one-way communication. And landing happens faster than that.

So ultimately, our robot investigator had to pilot itself. To accomplish all this, NASA designed new pieces of tech that allowed Perseverance to measure its distance from its landing spot, and to scan the surface and navigate around any hazards. And it did this very well!

The rover calculated exactly when it needed to open its parachute to safely land inside its target zone, and deployed it right on time. Next, after the parachute slowed things down as much as it could, those rockets were used to get the descent stage down to a walking speed. Then, about 20 meters above the ground, a descent stage sometimes called a sky crane lowered Perseverance toward the Martian surface.

And finally, as soon as sensors detected that wheels hit dirt, the proverbial umbilical cords were cut, and the descent stage flew off so it didn’t crash into the rest of the equipment. And instead just crashed into the service of mars. And when we got news that happened, that’s when the team at mission control started cheering and making us all a little teary-eyed.

Also, yes, that was actual, HD footage of Perseverance landing on Mars! wow. Once it was on the ground, Perseverance sent back a couple of photos to confirm its safe landing. And the science began almost immediately!

Like, one of these photos caught some rocks with a bunch of holes in them, and geologists are now wondering what kind of rock they are and if they tell us anything about the area’s past. A microphone installed on the rover has also sent back the first sound recorded on Mars — which is for the record, a very quiet place. [Optional pause to play some of the recording. It really doesn’t sound like much].

It sounds - you’re listening to it now - like wind, but like martian wind. After landing, the next few days were spent unlocking and testing the mission’s hardware, taking a full, 360-degree panorama, and just generally getting situated. And now, if all goes according to plan, the rover will start driving in not too long.

When everything gets the go-ahead, Perseverance will begin its hunt for the chemical remnants of life amongst rocks up to 3.8 billion years old. Conveniently, it managed to land only two kilometers from the site of a former river delta — which is a prime location for that hunt, since life as we know it needs water. The rover will also collect small samples and store them for a future mission capable of returning them to Earth for deeper analysis.

And the rover isn’t the only part of the Mars 2020 mission, either! Like I mentioned, it also includes a couple of prototypes. There’s the helicopter named Ingenuity, which in a couple of months or so, will hopefully be the first craft to fly on another world.

And there’s also the instrument MOXIE, which will demonstrate a way future human explorers could create oxygen gas from Mars’s mostly carbon dioxide air — gas that could be used for breathing or rocket fuel. So even while Perseverance plans to study Mars’s past, we’re prepping for the future, too. And NASA’s package isn’t the only new arrival to Mars!

On February 10th, China’s Tianwen-1 also arrived in Martian orbit. It includes an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, which are scheduled to land in the spring. And this mission will study all kinds of things, from Mars’s upper atmosphere to ice on the surface.

The other mission comes courtesy of the United Arab Emirates, and it arrived on February 9th. It’s called the Hope orbiter, and it’s actually the first interplanetary mission from any Arab nation! It’s being billed as Mars’s first weather satellite, but besides monitoring the weather, it’s also charged with figuring out how hydrogen and oxygen gas leak out of Mars’s atmosphere into space.

That will give us hints into what the Martian climate used to be like, and how it ended up like what we see, today. One of the many exciting things about this mission is that Hope’s orbit is way larger than any orbit we’ve put a satellite in before. It ranges from 22,000 to 44,000 kilometers above the surface, and puts Hope far enough away that it can see the whole planet at once.

Or at least one side of it for clarity. So, Hope can monitor how the weather changes on a global scale, 24.6 hours, 7 days a week. Because, well, a Martian day is 37 minutes longer than an Earth one.

With so many new sources of data, we’re going to have unprecedented access to our next-door neighbor. And besides teaching us more about the planet, that flood of knowledge will also pave the way for the day when humans finally step foot on Mars themselves. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News!

If you want to keep up with the latest news from the Mars 2020 mission, or just what’s going on in astronomy and astrophysics research, we’ve got you covered. You can subscribe below, and we put out a new Space News video every Friday. [ outro ].