While many of us were busy watching a sizable backlash develop against Texas senator Ted Cruz — who, I don’t know if you heard, fled Houston for Cancún in the middle of a staggering statewide emergency — the U.S. government managed to pull off something actually pretty impressive, albeit on another planet. On Thursday, NASA landed a robot on Mars. Her name is Perseverance, she is a rover, and she is reportedly equipped to figure out whether or not there was ever life up there. She is also somehow tweeting, because the internet is a cage from which even machines cannot break free.
Anyway, if you were wondering what Percy was up to … picture this, but everything is dusty and the color of bricks.
Perseverance launched on July 30, traveling 126 million miles to complete today’s touchdown, which stretched over a sweaty “seven minutes of terror” and involved a parachute plus a sort of jet pack. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California received word that the landing had been successful. If you are having trouble picturing the space saga, Perseverance posted some helpful animated shorts:
The rover (the fifth the U.S. has sent to Mars) will be exploring the Jezero Crater, believed to be the former site of an “ancient river delta,” per NASA, that “tells a story of the on-again, off-again nature of the wet past of Mars.” The SUV-size robot is carrying a suite of new tools that will allow it to map the pimply face of Mars, even below the surface, and also to collect rock and soil samples, ideally for their eventual return to Earth.
All told, this operation will wind up costing several billion dollars, but as NASA’s Mars Exploration Program director James Watzin previously told the New York Times, “To really get into some of the really intriguing questions at a detail level means we need to parse the evidence down on the molecular level and try to tease the information out of very, very old material.” Although, considering the havoc humans are currently wreaking on this planet (again, see Texas), that’s information I’m not totally convinced we should be allowed to have. Keep your secrets, space bot!