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Maryland Scientists And Engineers Play Key Roles In Latest Mars Mission

BALTIMORE (WJZ) – The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab played key roles in the success of NASA's "Perseverance" Rover mission.

The rover safely landed on the Red Planet Thursday after a seven-month journey. The successful entry and landing were confirmed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to cheers from Mission Control.

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. A camera aboard the descent stage captured this shot. A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis. The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"It will be like that present is finally opened and we can play with it," planetary scientist Dr. Michelle Minitti said Thursday. "We have been studying this landing site for years. We know it intimately."

Dr. Minitti, a Maryland resident, is a co-investigator and member of the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) science team.

"Scientists from Goddard and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel have been involved from the beginning and largely helping plan the science part of it," Dr. Minitti said. "Once you're on the ground, time is precious, so you need to be able to hit the ground running."

Scientists here in Maryland will play a key role in studying rock and soil samples collected on this mission. Those samples will take at least a decade to return to Earth.

"We care about that because geology runs on billions of years of time scales and we don't have those clocks set for Mars yet," Dr. Minitti said.

The Mars 2020 Long Term Planner said she and others have been studying the landing site for years.

The mission will be instrumental toward potential human spaceflight to Mars.

"What's Martian weather like? What's the radiation level like," Dr. Minitti asked. "Perseverance" has a weather station aboard.

"This is one step along the way of our journey to accomplish that goal. And it's a major step," Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said.

To see you and your family "on Mars," NASA created a "Mars Perseverance Photo Booth" where you can upload a picture and choose your background.

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