Tonight, before you sleep, I want to take you to a dark room in a big building in the town of Pasadena, California. Inside the dark room, a group of people are sitting looking at screens. Sometimes, they look at each other, too. All of them are very tense.
This is the night of February 18, 2021. The women and men staring at the screens are some of the most extraordinary scientists on Earth. They are waiting for a transmission from Mars.
We are in NASA Mission control. Inside the room is a sign reading: “The center of the universe”. All of the data that comes to Earth from space passes right through the screens in this room.
Right now, the scientists are holding their breath, because they are waiting to find out if their invention, a rover named Perseverance, has made it to the red planet.
Perseverance has been traveling through space for six and a half months and 300 million miles. Since before she left Earth, the scientists have been in constant contact with Perseverance, checking her systems and monitoring her data. Now, for the first time, the rover is silent. The silence means she has begun her descent through Mars’s atmosphere, where her equipment can’t transmit. In seven minutes, the team at mission control will find out whether she has landed safely or crashed, but until then, there’s nothing they can do but hope.
The scientists in this room have spent years inventing and perfecting and building the systems that will gently lower Perseverance to Mars. Humans have never set foot on the red planet - there is still so much we don’t know about this far-far-away place! This odd-looking, sophisticated rover will help us explore its mountains and craters, and deserts. It will collect rocks and perform experiments.
First, though, Perseverance has to find a safe place to land. The scientists have given her a target, but it’s up to Perseverance to get there. Cameras in her belly feed her images of the Martian landscape, and her computers analyze those pictures as she steers with rocket boosters.
When Perseverance finally lands, a room full of scientists erupts in an excited applause. Some eat peanuts--a NASA tradition. Others set their clocks for Mars time (the days are 37 minutes longer on Mars!).
The name “Perseverance” means continuing to try, even when it gets difficult.
The rover’s mission is a powerful reminder of the fact that through perseverance and collaboration, we humans can make seemingly impossible things happen, not just for our planet but for the entire universe.