PASADENA, Calif. — After a 12 months of seemingly infinite obstacles and challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, one thing good lastly occurred. Amidst the chaos and strife, NASA landed its most formidable robotic explorer ever on the floor of Mars.
On Thursday (Feb. 18), a brilliant mild shone as folks around the globe celebrated the Perseverance Mars rover touchdown safely in Jezero Crater, an historic lakebed on the Purple Planet’s floor. As I watched the rover’s descent to the Martian floor in (nearly) real-time from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) right here, the touchdown was a welcome respite following a really grueling 12 months.
I may see it on folks’s faces (or, somewhat, of their eyes above their masks), and I may really feel it within the air. This mission did not simply propel know-how and science ahead, it demonstrated the unbelievable perseverance of the human spirit. In any case, the groups at NASA had been capable of accomplish this unbelievable feat, which, even in “regular instances,” would have been troublesome.
“It has been a tricky 12 months. It has been robust to do that mission on this atmosphere. However the staff, like they’ve with each different problem, has stepped as much as it … and I feel that is going to proceed into the longer term,” Perseverance deputy undertaking supervisor Matt Wallace, of JPL, mentioned throughout a post-landing information convention on Thursday (Feb. 18).
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COVID-19 and NASA
2020 noticed over 110 million instances of COVID-19 and a couple of.43 million deaths brought on by the novel coronavirus. These numbers are nonetheless rising because the coronavirus pandemic continues around the globe. The virus’ unfold introduced world loss and grief together with widespread modifications in our day-to-day life. Faculties and companies shut down, and new procedures went into place as we labored to adapt our lives to higher shield one another.
However science did not cease with COVID-19. NASA scientists and engineers had been planning and dealing on Perseverance’s mission, formally generally known as Mars 2020, lengthy earlier than the pandemic. And with Perseverance scheduled to launch in the summertime of 2020, the company had to determine easy methods to get to Mars when people could not even safely be in the identical room collectively.
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The stakes had been excessive: Lacking the roughly month-long launch window would have delayed the $2.7 billion mission by greater than two years. (Mars and Earth align favorably for interplanetary missions simply as soon as each 26 months.)
NASA took motion early within the pandemic, altering its working procedures to try to stop the unfold of COVID-19. This meant that many scientists, engineers and technicians who weren’t engaged on important mission actions moved their work house. Primarily, the company had to determine easy methods to launch after which land a rover on Mars with an enormous portion of the staff working from their residing rooms.
“Our office is slightly completely different,” Wallace mentioned throughout a information convention on Wednesday (Feb. 17). “We have masking necessities and social distancing necessities.Our mission assist space might be rather less dense than we’ve got earlier than.”
“Due to COVID, the 4 or 5 hundred members of the science staff cannot be all collectively at JPL. We usually are leaping up and down, yelling and screaming with the engineers. We will not do this,” Jim Bell, principal investigator of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z instrument, added in a information convention on Tuesday (Feb. 16).
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“Frankly, I am getting barely emotional,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the affiliate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, informed Area.com at JPL on touchdown day (Feb. 18, 2021). What moved him so was how the groups at NASA have persevered and made this mission doable regardless of the challenges that COVID-19 introduced.
“I feel this rover is precisely on the degree of high quality that we’d’ve completed with out COVID, it is precisely on the degree of maturity by way of software program as we’d have completed with out COVID,” he added. And that is all doable “due to the staff coming collectively and standing as one. So Perseverance isn’t just the title of the rover, it is what describes this staff.”
Going ahead safely
Now, with Perseverance down safely on Mars, this distant work will proceed as NASA science groups start to make use of the rover and its devices to work on the mission’s science targets.
“It is completely different than ever earlier than,” Perseverance undertaking scientist Ken Farley, additionally of JPL, mentioned throughout a information convention on Wednesday.
“The science staff shouldn’t be going to be shoulder-to-shoulder doing this for the foreseeable future, we’re going to be working remotely,” he mentioned. “So, actually, the science mission goes to be executed from folks’s residing rooms and bedrooms, throughout the nation and all around the globe. It is spectacular that we’re in a position to do this. It is a massive problem, and I feel we’re prepared to do this.”
Zurbuchen agreed and shared that he thinks that this accomplishment “reveals that people coming collectively can do superb issues even in antagonistic conditions. So for me, after I consider Perseverance and that staff I additionally get very hopeful.”
“Science can be a energy that may unite us,” he added on touchdown day.
E mail Chelsea Gohd at email@example.com or observe her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Fb.