- Press Release
- August 16, 2022
Team Behind NASA’s Newest Mars Rover to Honor Persevering Students
Select middle schoolers who have pushed past obstacles to reach their academic goals will be rewarded with a personal message beamed down from NASA’s Perseverance rover.
NASA’s “You’ve Got Perseverance” awards opportunity invites U.S. teachers, educators, and community members to nominate students in grades 6-8 who have demonstrated that they have the right stuff to move past obstacles and reach their academic goals. The program will reward that dedication with recognition all the way from Mars.
Events over these many months have taught us all about what it takes to persevere. Students have had to adapt and push forward through tough challenges – not unlike the team behind NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has overcome many obstacles to build, launch, and operate the mission on Mars. The rover team now seeks to honor students who have demonstrated perseverance, sending them personal messages beamed by the rover from the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater, which it has been exploring since landing in February 2021.
There will be four opportunities to nominate students, with the first opening on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. Nomination information is available at: https://go.nasa.gov/gotperseverance “Getting NASA’s heaviest, most sophisticated rover yet onto the surface of a planet hundreds of millions of miles away is a remarkable feat unto itself,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. “But to do so in spite of the safety restrictions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic required extraordinary perseverance. And so does forging ahead as a student when the pandemic dramatically altered so much of your day-to-day life.”
Throughout the rover’s development, journey to Mars, white-knuckle landing, and ambitious surface mission so far, the Perseverance team has risen to meet new challenges. “It’s the most complex robotic system we’ve ever sent to another planet,” said Perseverance Project Manager Jennifer Trosper of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It has to autonomously drive five times faster than any other Mars rover and use its science instruments to carefully select and then collect over 30 samples for pickup by a future mission.”
Perseverance brought to Mars seven new science instruments, including a technology demonstration to generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, plus the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
What’s more, “after all the planning, designing, and most of the spacecraft building, we had to dramtically change how we worked because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Trosper said. To stay safe, most team members (including Trosper) teleworked. “We had to finish the development and testing, as well as operate this complex rover, with much of the team working remotely. It was almost to the point where you wondered, ‘Is this really doable?’ But we just kept moving forward, faced head-on whatever issue came up, and overcame each challenge, one by one,” she said.
Now the team wants to encourage the next generation to persevere in the same way – to embrace the idea of overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. As part of “You’ve Got Perseverance,” the rover will congratulate students for persevering in their academic pursuits by using its “Seq. Echo” capability.
When sending intructions to Perseverance, engineers can command the rover to echo a message back to Earth. NASA’s Curiosity rover, on Mars since 2012, used the method to “welcome” Perseverance when it landed. “We also wanted to give some young students the opportunity to talk to our team and ask questions,” said Trosper.
When the personalized messages are transmitted from Mars, the students will have a chance to share the experience with family and their classrooms via a live video chat with Perseverance rover team members in mission control at JPL. Trosper hopes that connecting students with her team will help them see how the scientists and engineers also face challenging situations and succeed through perseverance.
Among the ways the rover team has persevered:
During the Build
Heat Shield: Perseverance was going to use a spare heat shield from the Curiosity mission to protect the spacecraft during its fiery descent through the Martian atmosphere. But during testing, it cracked and could not be repaired. The team had to figure out why it broke, then design a new one – a process that took about seven months. All the while, the clock was ticking on the mission’s launch period, scheduled to make the most of the alignment of Earth and Mars. A missed launch period would have meant waiting over two years for the next opportunity.
During the Trip to Mars
Computer Memory: During the spacecraft’s cruise to Mars, galactic cosmic rays (high-energy background particles in space) corrupted some unused memory on the main computer. This occurred more frequently than on the Curiosity rover mission, and each time it happened, operations were temporarily interrupted in order to swap computers so the team could reset the main computer and clear the corruption. If this happened near landing, they would have had very limited time to reconfigure the computer system to clear the corruptions, so the team prepared a contingency plan for this possibility. Fortunately, the problem did not occur close to landing.
Once on Mars
First Rock Sample Attempt: Perseverance found an intriguing rock for the first sampling attempt. The team commanded the rover to drill into the rock, collect a sample, and store it in a sealed tube. Early images suggested a successful core sample, prompting celebration in the control room. But when more data revealed that the sample was not inside the tube, the team set out to solve this Martian mystery.
They soon figured out the rock was too weathered and crumbly, its sample breaking apart into small fragments and not contained within the sample tube. The team was happy to have at least collected a sample of the Martian atmosphere, and they used the opportunity to begin investigating how to collect samples from loosely consolidated rocks like this, which weren’t part of the original test program.
Still underway on Earth, that work may eventually lead to a different way to collect samples from such rocks on Mars. Meanwhile, the mission has gathered four core samples so far in addition to the atmospheric sample.
“Mars always surprises you, but you work through it and get to the other side,” Trosper said.
Nomination windows for the “You’ve Got Perseverance” award are planned throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Selection will be made through a lottery, with entries screened to ensure they meet the criteria. All nominated students can receive a certificate to acknowledge their perseverance.
Find out how to nominate students at: https://go.nasa.gov/gotperseverance
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 (broken rock and dust).
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: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
A STEM toolkit related to the mission is also available: https://www.nasa.gov/stem/nextgenstem/moon_to_mars/mars2020stemtoolkit