NASA Guam space grant director discusses historic Mars landing

This high-resolution still image is part of a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. (NASA photo)

The rover landing on Mars on February 18 is said to be the start of a new era of exploration on the red planet.

On Thursday, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured riveting live footage of its rover, named Ingenuity, landing on Mars’ crater.

The NASA Guam Space Grant program is Guam’s connection to NASA and offers educational opportunities for UOG undergraduates and graduates by awarding Space Grant Fellowships in fields that are relevant to NASA’s goals.

Dr. Romina King, director of the NASA Guam Space Grant talks about what makes this Mars mission different compared to the others already in place on the red planet.

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“This rover builds on the last NASA missions where it’s looking for signs of biological life. This rover, in addition, to say the microphone it has on it, also has the most number of cameras or sensors to look at Mars in different ways. Like for example, it has ground penetrating radar in it. So that way we can kind of see the ground and below the ground,” King said.

She added: “Another cool part of this is that it is going to be taking samples. I think Curiosity (another Mars Rover) took samples and crushed it. This one is like taking a core and taking that core and putting it in a test tube and storing it for later transport back to Earth so we can analyze the cores with our really big, expensive equipment.”

The other feature Dr. King mentions, which she believes is the coolest part of Ingenuity, is its built-in helicopter which will enable it to fly all around Mars.

The recent video NASA posted earlier Tuesday morning shows the progress of another NASA-built device landing safely on to the plant’s surface

“The sky crane came down and you can see the image is split to see below and see above. And then the sky crane came down and the most exciting part is that when the control room said, okay, it’s slowing down its speed which meant, oh great things are working!” King said.

According to King, one of the ultimate goals NASA has with the Mars mission is to be able to put a human being on the planet and eventually start a human colony.

For the next Mars mission set for 2026, they will send in another rover.

NASA Space Grant Guam has been encouraging others through their social media to watch the live landing.  It has also been promoting activities for students related to the Mars mission such as students designing their own rovers.