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LSU alum turned NASA engineer plays role in Perseverance's landing on Mars

3 years 3 months 3 weeks ago Friday, February 19 2021 Feb 19, 2021 February 19, 2021 8:25 AM February 19, 2021 in News
Source: CNN
Keith Comeaux

When the NASA Perseverance rover completed its 292.5 million-mile journey from Earth to safely land on Mars, an employee with ties to Louisiana was part of the NASA team that watched the landing from mission control, thrilled to see their work reach an historic milestone.

Dr. Keith Comeaux, a proud Louisiana State University and Catholic High alum, tweeted, "It's geaux time," from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on Thursday, Feb. 18. 

According to CNN, the rover is called Perseverance, but nicknamed "Percy,"by NASA's mission control team.

When Percy landed on Mars, it sent back a set of initial images of the landing site, showing the rover's shadow on the surface of a part of Mars that's known as the 'Jezero Crater.'

The images were thrilling to the team that's been working with Percy and preparing for the landing for years.

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk touched on this when he said, "This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally -- when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks." 

"The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation's spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s."

President Joe Biden was eager to congratulate Jurczyk on the mission, and gave the official a congratulatory phone call before tweeting his enthusiastic support of NASA's work.

Percy is on an unprecedented journey to search for signs of ancient life on Mars during a two-year long mission.

The rover will explore Jezero Crater, which is the site of a 3.9 billion year old lake. While in this area, Percy will examine the area for microfossils in the rocks and soil. Follow-up missions are anticipated to return samples of this site collected by Perseverance to Earth by the 2030s.

After Percy captures images of its surroundings and sends them back to earth for, it will undergo a series of remote "health checkups" by NASA engineers.

The inspections will continue for about a month of inspections, CNN says, and once Percy is deemed ready it will deploy a helicopter called Ingenuity. 

The news outlet says, the process of deploying Ingenuity will take about 10 days; Percy will drop the helicopter on the surface of Mars and then roll away from it. After this, the small, 4-pound helicopter must survive frigid nights on Mars, keep itself warm and charge itself using solar panels. Then, it will be ready for its first flight, which will last about 20 seconds.

"The Ingenuity team will be on the edge of our seats with the Perseverance team on landing day," said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager. "We can't wait until the rover and the helicopter are both safely on the surface of Mars and ready for action."

The path Percy will traverse has been described as a nearly 15 mile long"epic journey" that will take years to complete.

But scientists feel that the information gathered during the trek is well worth the time and effort involved. 

According to CNN, Percy also carries instruments that could help further exploration on Mars in the future, like MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. This experiment, about the size of a car battery, will attempt to convert Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen.

This could help NASA scientists learn how to produce rocket fuel on Mars and produce oxygen that could be used during future human exploration of the red planet.

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