We’ve done this a few times before, sure, but it remains one of humankind’s most impressive technological feats. The latest rover to continue our presence on the Red Planet is Perseverance, the star of the Mars 2020 mission that launched in July of that year and landed in February of 2021.
It’s now been busy roving for over two years. News of what we’re discovering—beyond the stream of photos—tends to come in discrete bits that can be hard to connect into a bigger picture if you aren’t following closely. Consider this your wide-angle recap.
Like other rovers, Perseverance is bristling with science instruments. It has cameras of multiple kinds used both for general imagery and spectral analysis that can identify minerals. That latter function is supplemented by an additional X-ray instrument. Perseverance also has a ground-penetrating radar instrument that can reveal layering hidden below the surface. More invasively, there is a drill on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. This is used to grind clean (what geologists call “fresh”) spots for analysis, but it can also core out small, cylindrical rock samples—hopefully to be retrieved and returned to Earth by a future mission.
It's not all about the rocks, though. Perseverance has a weather module tracking atmospheric conditions and airborne dust. And it has a friend—the Ingenuity helicopter has wildly exceeded its pilot-testing goal and is still flying in short hops to keep up with the rover.