Next month is an important month for NASA when on February 18, it will attempt to land the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. NASA is encouraging students to join in the excitement of the upcoming landing with the NASA Mission to Mars Student Challenge. NASA wants classrooms, informal education groups, families, and individuals to design, build, and land their own spacecraft.
The challenge comes with inspiration in the form of a Mars 2020 STEM toolkit with activities, videos, and more. NASA says that it wants to reach every classroom in America and beyond with the Mission to Mars Student Challenge. The goal is to share the thrill of the Perseverance rover landing itself and to share with students some of what goes into making that type of achievement possible.
One of the most intriguing experiments that Perseverance is carrying to the Red Planet is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. The helicopter represents the first time controlled flight on another planet will be attempted. With the very thin atmosphere of Mars, scientists aren’t sure the helicopter will fly at all. As cool as the helicopter experiment is, it’s not one of the main science experiments aboard the rover.
The key mission for the rover is astrobiology. It will search for signs of ancient microbial life. Perseverance was also designed to characterize the geology of Mars and its past climate. The rover will also help pave the way for human exploration of Mars and will be the first mission to collect Martian rock and regolith samples.
With a long history of success, it’s easy to think of landings on Mars as trivial. However, NASA is reminding how difficult landing on the Red Planet is, noting that only about half of all attempts by world space agencies have succeeded. Interestingly, all of the successful landings have been by NASA.