As the Perseverance rover begins its two-year exploration, we catch up with Professor Tom Pike who is part of the mission's science team.
NASA’s latest robotic explorer touched down last night on the red planet after a 293-million-mile journey. It's target — Jezero Crater, a surface feature that scientists think is likely to have once been a deep lake fed by running water.
Imperial researchers are part of the Perseverance mission —Tom is involved with testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, known as MOXIE, one of the new technologies being trialled to help astronauts make future expeditions to Mars. He is looking at the problems that might be caused by dust clogging the filters of its electrolytic converter.
Tom was with the landing team online to watch the arrival of the Perseverance rover on to Mars on Thursday evening. After a short sleep, he was up to see the first results presented to the science team at 4am this morning.
“I wasn’t the only Imperial academic at the meeting. It was led by Professor Sanjeev Gupta, from our Earth Sciences and Engineering Department. Sanjeev is an old hand at this after participating in the science investigation of the Mars Science Laboratory, Perseverance’s older sibling.”
The results presented at that meeting are currently with NASA HQ prior to their public release. “I’m not allowed to say very much more at this point, except that they will be worth waiting for.”
A new mission
Tom is also a Co-Investigator on the InSight mission which is now in its third year monitoring the seismic signal of Mars. Imperial supplied the sensors for the short-period seismometers on InSight, which have recorded hundreds of 'marsquakes' and generated unprecedented data about the planet's inner structure.
“It’s rather overwhelming to be on two Mars missions at the same time, but in the current circumstances on Earth and the labs at Imperial almost empty, it’s good to be involved in two experiments on another planet."
Our congratulations to everyone involved in the mission — watching the landing was thrilling and we are really excited to see the results.
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