Perseverance’s zoom cameras to take historic focus on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on a journey to Mars since its launch in July 2020 and is set to land on the red planet on Feb. 18. The rover will look for evidence of ancient life and collect soil and rock samples at a part of Mars just north of its equator known as Jezero Crater — the site of an ancient delta.

As part of the mission, Cornell University scientists are working on a number of aspects critical to its success, from stereo cameras to weather instrumentation to ground penetrating radar.

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Alex Hayes is a professor of astronomy and a co-investigator for Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z — a set of stereo cameras that will be the “eyes of the rover.” Hayes says these cameras may have to adjust to their new Martian environment after landing and his team has been preparing to ensure they operate at peak performance once on the red planet.

“Many of the final parameters that we use to calibrate the cameras so that we can use them for science can’t happen until we go on Mars, simply because the Martian environment is very hard to recreate in the lab. So, anything that’s happened over the last eight months, anything that’s going to be temperature dependent once it’s in the Martian environment, are things we’re not going to know about until we’re actually there. One of the first things the team will do after landing is acquire data to validate and update the pre-launch instrument calibrations.”

“The Perseverance rover is just step one of three in the concept of Mars sample return. Our job is to land at Jezero, identify the environment, provide the context and cache the samples that will eventually be brought back to Earth. So, this is really the start of a much larger endeavor. It’s more than just a single mission, it’s the start of a campaign. And so that is on our minds and that makes things a little different than previous missions because you’re not only thinking about this mission, you’re thinking about how this feeds forward into the follow-up.”

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