SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Mars Rover Perseverance is successfully on the Red Planet, much to the relief of a team led by Cornell astronomers.
Alex Hayes is a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and a co-investigator for Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z — a set of stereo cameras that will be the “eyes of the rover.”
One of his team’s goals is to learn about the material around Jezero Crater to try and help answer the question of whether there was ever life on Mars.
Hayes, like most team members, watched the landing virtually.
“You’re thinking this is all happening and if any part of it goes wrong, the whole mission is done, and then it works perfectly. And nothing went wrong yesterday, it worked perfectly,” he tells NewsChannel 9.
The first images from Perseverance, nicknamed Percy, were not from Mastcam Z, the sophisticated camera Hayes and his team will operate, but he says they were still so incredible to see.
“That’s when I know we’re actually there and we can start our mission and it’s getting that first image is just such relief,” Hayes says.
The next few weeks are already planned out. They’ll be used mostly for checking that everything survived the launch, cruise, and landing.
“And then what I’m really excited for is on Sunday, on the third Sol, or third Martian day, the Mastcam Z is going to be taking a full 360-degree panorama of the entire area around the rover,” Hayes says.
With Percy on the Red Planet, team members will now live on Mars time, where the days are 40 minutes longer than they are on Earth.
Hayes says, “It’s one thing to fly to JPL and operate the Rover from JPL working on Mars time versus being at home with your family is doing it, and so I think that’s one challenge that’s new for this mission is figuring out how that will work.”
The pandemic has forced many teams, including those operating Mastcam Z, to work remotely, and in many cases that means at home.
Hayes says he’s excited to finally be on the Red Planet, “Call it to work, but it’s fun, I mean, we’re just really excited to have this be in the phase of the mission where we’re on Mars now. We’re about to explore, we’re about to take pictures of things that have never been imaged before. We’re about to learn things we didn’t even think were questions we wanted to ask when we landed.”
The next mission that will retrieve Percy’s samples has not even been built yet, it’s being designed. Its planned launch is in 2026. A third mission will launch a few months later to bring samples back to earth in 2031.