On This Episode
Chief Engineer, Mars Exploration Directorate for Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Chief Executive Officer for The Planetary Society
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
Also in this episode:
- Swati Mohan, Perseverance guidance, navigation and controls operations lead
- Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science
- Jessica Samuels, Perseverance surface mission manager
- Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager
- Lori Glaze, NASA Planetary Science division director
- Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist
- Dave Gruel, Perseverance assembly, test and launch operations manager
- Al Chen, entry, descent and landing phase lead
- Ken Williford, Perseverance deputy project scientist
The Mars 2020 rover is on Mars. We have collected the most thrilling moments from the landing and the revelations that followed, including the first sounds recorded on the Red Planet. Bill Nye congratulates the entire Perseverance team and explains why this audacious mission is so important. Then Bruce Betts and Mat Kaplan welcome special guests as they read the winners of the What’s Up Mars poetry contest.
Perseverance Rover Landing Videos Multiple cameras aboard NASA's Perseverance rover captured the spacecraft's descent to Mars on 18 February 2021. This video combines the views and synchronizes them with audio callouts from mission control.Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Perseverance panorama in 3D NASA's Perseverance rover captured the images used to create this 360-degree view of its surroundings on 20 February 2021. Please note: Not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports their playback on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera browsers. For best experience on a mobile device, play this video in the YouTube app.Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech
- Perseverance Firsts: The Best Moments from NASA's Mars Rover Landing
- Perseverance, NASA’s Newest Mars Rover
- Mars 2021 Missions Arrival Guide
- Mars Party! by The Amoeba People
- The Downlink
This week's prizes:
A Planetary Society r-r-r-r-rubber asteroid.
This week's question:
How many uncrewed spaceflights have there been to the International Space Station?
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, March 3rd at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
How many and which space agencies had their first Mars orbiters get it right, achieving orbit and operating above the Red Planet?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the 10 February space trivia contest:
How many lasers are on board the Perseverance rover?
There are 3 lasers on board the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance: SuperCam has infrared and green lasers, while the Raman spectrometer contains an ultraviolet laser.
Mat Kaplan: Touchdown: The Sights and Sounds of Perseverance of Mars. This week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. NASA's Mars 2020 rover has safely reached Jezero Crater, taking the first step toward the return of martian soil that may tell us if life once existed there. In the meantime it will explore a river delta, launch a helicopter, make movies, and let us listen to the sounds of the red planet.
Mat Kaplan: A very special episode of our show this week as we bring you many of the most memorable moments and the creation of a most memorable space exploration milestone. You'll also hear my brief conversation with Bill Nye about this accomplishment. Then Bruce Betts and I will be joined by some special guests to present the winners of our Mars Poetry Competition. We'll close with the Planetary Radio premier of a new tune inspired by Perseverance that was composed and recorded by our unearthly friends, the Amoeba People, on the day the rover landed.
Mat Kaplan: We'll get right to it, skipping our usual review of headlines from The Planetary Society's newsletter. Besides, the top story in the latest edition of the downlink is, what else, the landing of Perseverance. You can read and see more at planetary.org/downlink. It's the morning of Thursday, February 18th at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A crowd is gathered there. That in itself is out of the ordinary after nearly a year of careful isolation and barely occupied facilities. Perseverance is approaching the outer reaches of the Mars atmosphere, where its seven minutes of terror will begin.
Mat Kaplan: Rows of engineers and managers sit at their consoles, listening to the mostly very careful communications flowing to their headsets. There is a pause as three leaders of this nearly decade-long effort express their hopes and thanks.
Al Chen: Thanks for literally and figuratively putting us in the right position to succeed. Let's land on Mars together.
Maggie: Copy EDLC. As flight director, I also would like to thank the whole team, cruise ops, EDL ops, EDL team and the surface ops as well. It's been an amazing journey, I think we all know that. It's been my honor and pleasure to work with you all side by side. Your tireless efforts and endurance in the face of our challenges has been truly, truly inspiring, so cudos to you. Mission, would you like to say something?
Speaker 4: Yeah, just echoing the same words that Al and Maggie have mentioned. You guys have overcome great obstacles in the last six and a half months, and it started with an earthquake in this room on launch day at L-20 minutes. I can't be more proud than all of the achievements that you guys have pulled off in the last six and a half months. Whatever happens in the next hour and a half, we can be proud of the achievements that you've accomplished so far. I look forward to seeing you on the other side, and I only wish that the rest of our team could be sharing this moment with us. This is a very unusual event. This room is only half as full as it would be if we weren't in this pandemic, so missing everyone on the team who's not with us here today. And go EDL.
Al Chen: Welcome to the EDL family.
Maggie: And with that, godspeed Perseverance.
Mat Kaplan: Millions were watching NASA TV's coverage around the world, providing color commentary was JPL chief engineer Rob Manning.
Rob Manning: Thank you very much for having me here, and what a wonderful experience. What a beautiful day in California. We're just all so excited here, anxious, worried, but very hopeful.
Speaker 7: Rob, I have a question for you. There is a landing tradition at JPL that involves eating peanuts for good luck. Can you tell us, how did that start?
Rob Manning: Yes, it started in the mid 1960s. What happened was we had a series of missions that had failures, the Ranger program in the early 1960s, one after another failed. And what happened was, one day a fellow by the name of Dick Wallace on Ranger number seven, on the seventh attempt, decided to bring peanuts to the ops area just before the launch. And guess what? That mission worked. Now, we're not supposed to be too superstitious. We're engineers and scientists after all. But we love tradition, and ever since then, before launch and before critical events like entry, descent, landing, we have brought out peanuts and shared them with the team. And it's been really a wonderful little experience, and so this is something we will do, we're doing right now, and it's something that we just can't help ourselves. It's just part of the experience.
Mat Kaplan: Now the seven minutes have begun. You'll mostly hear JPL engineer Swati Mohan as she narrates the descent moment by moment. But you'll also hear an anxious and excited Rob Manning reacting to each update. Here is my somewhat compressed montage that will take us right through the landing and a nice surprise.
Swati Mohan: Perseverance has just passed through the point of maximum deceleration and has indicated that it felt approximately 10 Earth Gs of deceleration.
Speaker 9: [inaudible 00:05:48] has lock again.
Rob Manning: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Swati Mohan: We saw a small outage of the [inaudible 00:05:57] telemetry from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during that peak heating phase likely caused by the present blackout. Perseverance is still continuing to perform bank reversal in the atmosphere to control it's descent to a landing target. We are starting to straighten up and fly right maneuver, where the spacecraft will jettison the entry balance masses in preparation for parachute deploy and to roll over to give the radar a better look at the ground.
Rob Manning: Yes, yes, yes.
Swati Mohan: Navigation has confirmed that the parachute has deployed and we are seeing significant deceleration in velocity. Our current velocity is 403 meters per second at an altitude of about 12 kilometers from the surface of Mars. Perseverance has now slowed to subsonic speeds and the heat shield has been separated. This allows both the radar and the cameras to get their first look at the surface. Current velocity is 145 meters per second at an altitude of about 9 and a half kilometers above the surface.
Rob Manning: Yes, yes, yes.
Swati Mohan: Perseverance now has radar locked on the ground. Current velocity is about 100 meters per second, 6.6 kilometers above the surface of Mars. Perseverance is continuing to descend on the parachute. We are permitting the initialization of terrain-routed navigation and subsequently, the priming of the landing engines. Our current velocity is about 90 meters per second at an altitude of about 4.2 kilometers.
Rob Manning: Almost there.
Swati Mohan: We have confirmation that the lander vision system has produced a valid solution in part with terrain-altered navigation.
Rob Manning: Yes, yes, yes.
Swati Mohan: We have priming of the landing engines. Sparking maneuver has started. We're 20 meters off the surface. Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars. Ready to begin seeking the sands of past life. At this point, the descent stage has blown away to a safe distance. Perseverance is continuing to transmit direct through Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to Earth.
Rob Manning: Oh my god. Oh.
Speaker 10: [inaudible 00:08:58] reports, we are still getting telemetry from the lander.
Maggie: All right, all stations, touchdown confirmed. We're going to wait for the images.
Rob Manning: This is so exciting. The team is beside themselves, it's so surreal. Stay tuned, we might get some pictures. So much has been riding on this.
Speaker 7: We have just heard the news that Perseverance is alive on the surface of Mars. Congratulations to the mission, and looks like we have some more news, and it looks like we're getting the first image. Here, we'll take a look at the first image.
Speaker 5: Flight, this is OL3. I have the target point on the map when you are ready.
Maggie: We are ready OL3, go for it.
Rob Manning: Okay, we have a camera in the front and rear of the spacecraft. They're near the ground, so these are pretty close, you can see the wheels there. And they're a little dirty because you've got glass covers over these cameras, but we took these seconds after landing, so there's still dust in the air from our landing event. So this happened just seconds ago, just arrived. This is really amazing. And we even know where we landed, this is the most amazing thing. The vehicle has told us where it's landed because it figured it out. You know, this is a sign. NASA works. NASA works. And when we put our hearts together and our hands together and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does, this is what we can do as a country. On all of the problems we have, we need to work together to do these kinds of things and make success happen.
Mat Kaplan: Hours have passed, mission leaders and NASA officials and others have gathered, with proper social distancing, in JPL's famed von Karman Auditorium, where I'm sure I'd have been if the pandemic had allowed. Here is beaming NASA science directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. Listen carefully for the sound of paper being torn.
Thomas Zurbuchen: I want to share an event with you that usually happens when I'm by myself. And what you should know is that every time we do a launch or we do a landing, we get two plans. One plan is the one we want to do, and then there's that second plan, which is right here. That's the contingency plan. Here's for the contingency plan. All right.
Mat Kaplan: Jessica Samuels is the Perseverance surface mission manager. She provided this report on the health of the rover.
Jessica Samuels: All of our instruments have gone through their initial checkouts, and we are happy to report that they are all performing nominally and as expected. Now when I say nominal, that really means fantastic because we can't wait to continue to use this payload suite.
Mat Kaplan: Matt Wallace is the Mars 2020 deputy project manager.
Matt Wallace: You know, you just got a chance to watch this team do one of the hardest things we do in our business, which is to land a spacecraft on the planet Mars. We arrived at Mars moving at about 12,000 miles an hour, roughly. And in just seven short minutes, we had to slow down and gently put Perseverance down in Jezero Crater, and the system just performed flawlessly, get through 10 or 12 Gs of deceleration, the supersonic parachute deployment, eight big main engines had to fire, our terrain-relative navigation hazard avoidance system had to perform the way it was designed. It's never easy. These things are so complicated. We were running a couple million lines of flight software code. I think we had something on the order of 30,000 parameters to set and get them all right. It's just a difficult thing to do, and it's very gratifying and quite a relief to be through it.
Mat Kaplan: Lori Glaze directs the planetary science division at NASA. Lori is immediately followed by Ken Farley, the delighted project scientist for Perseverance.
Lori Glaze: Wow, right? There's just so much excitement and emotion here today. And I of course have to extend my thanks as well to the entire team who really had to work under adverse conditions over the last year, and have worked hard for the six years prior to that as well, and probably even before that, leading up the beginning of when the project got kicked off. I'd also like to make sure that I give a little shoutout and some thanks to my headquarters staff that supports this as well. We all work together, it's all one big team. And I wanted to tell the folks here, the Mars 2020 team that it was just such an honor to be here and be allowed to sit in the control room with you guys. You guys are incredible, you're amazing, and I know it wasn't even the full team there, and the full breadth of that team, the capabilities are just astounding. And so, I'm just so proud of everything you've accomplished and thank you for letting me be a part of it here today. It is really, truly exciting. Now that we're on the ground, now the fun really starts.
Ken Farley: Wow, we have a science mission. It has been a long road to get here. And one of the things I would point out, it may be not obvious from the outside, but a mission like this is like a decade-long relay race. There was the whole first stage where the whole spacecraft was designed and built, and literally as the pandemic was closing, was raced off to the Cape to make the launch. The second leg was to get through space and arrive successfully as we have just done. And the third leg is the one that we are about to embark on, that's the science mission. And one of the amazing things about this is that there are thousands of people all along the way, and at each step, those people peel off and move on to new jobs. So on behalf of the science team, I want to thank my friends to the right here and all of the folks that got us to where we are. This is a spectacular place to be, so thank you all so much for that, and we are going to do you proud in the science mission.
Ken Farley: I want to start off just saying a few words about where we are and what we know so far. This is obviously not based on very much information, and my phone is buzzing all the time with people telling me things, so we're already starting to process the information that we have. But in this first image, you can see that we landed to the southeast of the delta. We are about two kilometers to the southeast of the delta. We are actually right on the boundary between two different geologic units. There's the kind of smooth area that we landed on, we call that the Mafic Floor Unit, and then there's the rough area, this is actually where the dunes are, and that's the olivine-bearing unit. This is a great place to be because one of the things that scientists love to do is look to see how two different geologic units come together. It tells you a lot about the geologic history. So we're really excited to get going on this.
Ken Farley: We can already see some important things. There are rocks in this field of view, we don't know exactly how big they are, but they might be about 10 centimeters would be a reasonable guess. Those are going to be very interesting. They will, undoubtedly, be some of the first objects that we explore once the shakedown phase of the early rover operations completes. And also in the background, we believe that we can see the delta. There are features in the back that look like the cliffs of the delta. So when we get those additional images back that Jennifer was mentioning, we should know a lot more about that. And then we can also see some sand dunes in there. And actually, in something of a relief, our imaging scientist told me when I went and talked to him about this image, I asked him what he saw and he said, "Looks like Mars." So I'm glad we have successfully landed on Mars.
Mat Kaplan: A very brief break now before we return to hear the first sounds every directly recorded on Mars. Much more, including Bill Nye, is also ahead, along with music from the Amoeba people.
Mat Kaplan: In 2021, mental health is finally a thing. So many people are struggling right now and aren't feeling like their normal selves. Therapy helps, and it doesn't have to be sitting around just talking about your feelings. So what is therapy exactly? It's whatever you want it to be. You can privately talk to someone if you feel like you're not dealing well with stress or you're having relationship issues. Whatever you need, it's time to stop being ashamed of normal human struggles and start feeling better because you deserve to be happy. And now you don't have to worry about finding an in-person therapist near you to help. Better Help is customized online therapy that offers video, phone, and even live chat sessions with your therapist, so you don't have to see anyone on camera if you don't want to. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy, and you can start communicating with your therapist in under 48 hours. Join the millions of people who are seeing what therapy is really about. See if it's for you because you are your greatest asset. This podcast is sponsored by Better Help and Planetary Radio listeners get 10 percent off their first month at betterhelp.com/planet. That's betterhelp.com/planet.
Mat Kaplan: Four more days have passed. Rumors have leaked from JPL about something everyone has been hoping to see. Here is deputy project manager Matt Wallace to introduce some of the most jaw-dropping video I have ever witnessed.
Matt Wallace: My daughter is a gymnast. She's been a gymnast since she was a little kid. And when she was about 11 years old, and the project was still in formulation, she asked me for one of those little sports cameras. And being the little indulgent parent I am, I got her the sports camera, and she put it in the harness that it came with, and she put the harness on, and she did a backflip. I don't know about you, but I can not do a backflip. But when she showed me the video and I watched that camera pan up to the ceiling, and then the room go upside down, and then somehow right itself as she landed on her feet, I felt for a moment that I had a glimpse into what it would be like if I could do a backflip.
Matt Wallace: That was the moment that inspired a phone call to my friend Dave Gruel over here, and that's what led to this system, this entry, descent, and landing camera system, we call them the EDL cams, that you're about to see the product of here just in a moment. Now I don't know about you, but it is unlikely at this point in my career that I will pilot a spacecraft down to the surface of Mars. But when you see this imagery, I think you will feel like you are getting a glimpse into what it would be like to land successfully in Jezero Crater with Perseverance.
Mat Kaplan: I've never wished more than this moment that I could share this great video with you, but I can do the next best thing by directing you to planetary.org, where my colleague Jason Davis has collected video, images, and more. But there is something our show is ideally suited for. To introduce it, here is Dave Gruel, manager of assembly, test, and launch operations for Perseverance.
Dave Gruel: I think we probably have overloaded your visual sense for a little bit, so we're going to do something a little bit different, and I'm going to have some fun here for a second too, so I'm going to get rid of this. And I'm going to talk to you now with this. This is the microphone that was part of the EDL camera system. When the EDL camera system was first envisioned, it was set up as just a bunch of cameras that would capture some amazing imagery on the surface of Mars. And about a year or so after it was first conceived, I got a phone call, another phone call from Matt, who after talking to headquarters, asked the question, "Could we possibly put a microphone as part of our EDL camera system?" So we worked with the team, we took a look, and sure enough, it was something that we could do. So we started off that detail design and identifying a microphone that would work for us and getting it onto the vehicle.
Dave Gruel: About a year after this first started, I was giving a tour at JPL. And I happened to mention to the group that I was giving the tour to that the decision had come down and we were working to actually include a microphone onto the vehicle. And after the tour was done, a gal came up to me, and she said some things that I won't forget anytime soon. She said, "I'm super excited that you guys are going to try to put a microphone onto the rover and get it to the surface of Mars." And I was very appreciative and I asked her afterwards, I said, "I'm curious, why is it that this relates to you so much?" And her response was that her sister was visually impaired. She was not able to see these images that we saw earlier or that we sent down in the past. And while she tries to describe them to her, she felt that she just can't quite capture that same sense of amazement that she gets when she can see them visually. And that by actually getting a microphone onto the surface of Mars, the hope was that she'd be able to experience things on Mars the same way that she was when she actually looked at them.
Dave Gruel: And that stuck with me. We continue to work super hard to make sure that this microphone'd work. And that's one reason why we were disappointed why it didn't work when we actually went and did our entry, descent, landing sequence. I wish I had actually that individual's name, I would love to reach out to her now and say, "We've done it. I hope your sister is enjoying it." Because what I'm going to show you in a second, or what you're going to hear in a second, is actually the first sounds being recorded from the surface of Mars. So there are two microphones on the Perseverance vehicle. There's this microphone here, which is part of the entry, descent, and landing system, and there's a second microphone that is on the Supercam instrument. And we're counting on both of these instruments with recording some absolutely amazing sounds from the surface of Mars. So with that, I invite you now to, if you would like to close your eyes, and just imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to the surroundings.
Dave Gruel: So that gentle whirl that happens in the background, that is a noise made by the rover. But yes, what you did here ten seconds in was an actual wind gust on the surface of Mars picked up by the microphone and sent back to us on Earth. The analysis indicates that was around a five meter per second type of a wind gust. So we sit here now and actually tell you that we have recorded sounds from the surface of Mars.
Mat Kaplan: Al Chen led the entry, descent, and landing team. Here he is describing the almost unbelievable accuracy of the landing that was enabled by new technology, including the terrain-relative navigation system.
Al Chen: And in fact, when you combine that with our safe target selection and where we flew to, we only missed the targeted pixel by about five meters. So we were aiming for a particular spot on the planet once it decided what was reachable and what the safest spot was, and given how well the lander vision system performed, and our system in flying us there, we only missed by five meters.
Mat Kaplan: Lastly, here is Ken Williford who, along with Katy Stack-Morgan, is a deputy project scientist for Perseverance. After all, it's the science that this mission is really about.
Ken Williford: We wanted to make sure to remind you that there's plenty of science going on already, with hundreds of team members already pouring over every new image. We start with what may seem like very basic observations: light rocks, dark rocks, holey rocks, that's holey with an E. We use these very generic terms at this early stage until we have more data that will allow us to test our hypotheses and make more confident interpretations. Follow along with the mission, and you'll see that this is a theme. As we get closer, our view of Mars continues to resolve and a coherent story emerges. Finally, I just want to briefly point out that we are finding real science value in these EDL cam videos. Here you can see a beautiful new perspective on the Jezero Delta. Also, a new perspective on some of the beautiful stratigraphy around our landing site, which is up on the far right side of this image.
Mat Kaplan: This was a media briefing, so I not very patiently waited on the phone for my turn to ask a question. I couldn't resist also conveying a message.
Mat Kaplan: Hi everyone, congratulations from not just me, but all of us at The Planetary Society. I've been texting with our boss, Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has been watching everything along with us, and here's part of his reaction: "Oh my, this is astonishing! Astonishing! Dare mighty things." But here's my question for Ken Williford. Ken, getting these first images and video from so much closer to the surface of Mars than we have from the Orbiters, in spite of the great job that they're capable of, does this start to make you think about the potential of doing this on a regular basis from balloons or, let's say, a helicopter?
Ken Williford: Well, sure. Almost everything I'm thinking about right now is potential. I guess I've compared it, to several people who've asked about how I'm feeling, you know, "What's it like?" And the closest thing I can compare it to is, I would say, the birth of my daughter, where the cruise phase that's about eight months long is like that nine month period where you're just waiting and you're just hoping everything goes right. And then she's born. In this case, we're on the surface, and it's real, and the potential is astounding. Katy Stack and I were just texting last night as we just got some new images down and we're just so excited like kids, just looking at every picture and seeing so many new things and having so many new ideas and new questions are appearing, and the potential of it all is what strikes me more than anything. We have so far to go, so much to learn, and I just couldn't be more grateful to have made this transition from all the years of hard work and stress and wondering, "Is it going to work out? How's it going to work out?" To now when we actually get to do this thing, it's just amazing.
Mat Kaplan: I believe all of us at The Planetary Society were online watching the amazing revelations presented at that February 22nd media briefing. Bill it has only been seconds since the end of that absolutely stunning media briefing by NASA, by the JPL folks, where they unveiled those videos and the microphone audio from Mars. I think that was the most awe-inspiring video I've seen since Apollo 11.
Bill Nye: Well, there's some other Apollo footage that's pretty amazing where they drop the hammer. Watching the SpaceX rockets boosters come back and land is pretty amazing. You're right, this is astonishing. Video from another world, supersonic parachute opens, sky crane rocket sled thing lowers rover on surface, flies away. Wow, and then, we hear the wind whoosh, whoosh by. Oh my good...Understand, we at The Planetary Society have been trying to get a microphone on Mars for at least 22 years. Well, I guess 30 years, 40 years. And so it's two microphones on Mars. And there's a cost savings, they're made from off-the-shelf stuff.
Bill Nye: Just amazing that these things worked at all. And now we have the sounds form Mars, and I guarantee you, will lead to some scientific discovery, let alone engineering refinement. It's just really something you guys. And really, as remarkable as the video is, as remarkable as the audio is, these things are, if I may employ a double negative, they ain't nothing compared with the discoveries that will be made in the coming weeks. As you all may know, a huge reason I stay in this business and stay so intimately connected with you all through The Planetary Society is because I want to find life on another world, or evidence of life rather, on another world while I'm still alive to appreciate it.
Bill Nye: And so this spacecraft, guided by these remarkable engineers, directed by these amazing scientists, these people are going to look for evidence of life, some fossilized Mars microbes, Mars-crobes. Oh wait, there's more Mat. The graphics on the photometric calibration target, the radiometric calibration target, were designed by our own Mark Hilverda, our internet guy, designed the graphics and he was directed and connected by Jim Bell. The whole thing, Mat, is just wild. What a great day for humankind.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely. Mark Hilverda, who gets his name at the end of every episode of Planetary Radio as associate producer of this series, helps us make it available to all of you every time. Bill, I already conveyed the congratulations that you had and all of us at The Planetary Society to the entire Perseverance team. Do you want to add anything to those congratulations?
Bill Nye: Thank you. Thanks to everyone who worked on this, and thanks to our members, who supported all this, enabled us to continue to advocate for the microphone in the right places at JPL, NASA, and around the world. There's instruments from other space stations from around the world flying on this thing, and we rely on Mars Orbiters to get the data over here to Earth. So thank you all, thank you, thank you.
Bill Nye: One more thing, Mat, a really compelling question that was asked in the press conference that she has asked often, "Why do we spend money on this? Why do we spend money exploring other worlds when there's so many problems here on Earth?" And the answer can be catched many different ways, but one of the reasons you explore is because you don't know what you're going to find. You don't really know what's over the next horizon, as our founder Bruce Murray used to say. And if you want to get specific, everybody relies on global positioning systems, everybody relies on the internet, neither of these things would exist without space exploration. And if we are to discover life on Mars, evidence of life rather, on Mars, it will change the course of human history. It will be a very different feeling for all of us living here in the cosmos on this pale blue dot. If this spacecraft doesn't make that discovery, it will lead to whatever does someday, whatever instruments scientists, engineers do someday.
Bill Nye: Am I rambling? It's so moving. This is the most worthy investment of our intellect and treasure. And to those of you accounting out there, the amount of money spent on these missions is almost in the noise, it's almost a round-off error. I mean, talking about the NASA budget, which is not even half a percent of the federal budget, this is nine percent of half a percent. People, this changes the world, back to you Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you Bill. I have nothing to add except that that's Bill Nye. He is the CEO of The Planetary Society. Stay with us, the winners of our Mars Poetry Competition, and more, are just ahead in What's Up.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is made possible by the generous support of listeners, like you. If you enjoy our show, if you believe in the mission of The Planetary Society advancing space exploration, I hope you'll join us. We need 500 new members by March 5th to hit our goal. Your membership will power our core initiatives: exploring new worlds, finding life, and defending our planet from asteroid threats. Sign up today at planetary.org/join2021, and you'll receive an official membership t-shirt, featuring the lovely worlds of our solar system. That's planetary.org/join2021. Thanks.
Mat Kaplan: Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio, and it is going to be a decidedly Martian version of What's Up. We are joined by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society. How are you, Bruce? Bruce Betts is here.
Bruce Betts: Spiffy, keen, poetic.
Mat Kaplan: I'm just glad we didn't have to write poems because that might've been painful.
Bruce Betts: I am too. I am just amazed by the number and quality and length of the poetry. Thank you to everyone who's contributed, I'll get back to that. How about I tell you about the poetic night sky right now?
Mat Kaplan: Can't wait.
Bruce Betts: Okay, so we've got Mars in the evening sky in the southwest looking redish. Over to its left is similar looking redish Aldebaran the star. They will be growing closer together until mid-March, although they won't be super close. And then the pre-dawn, it's that time. Promised you more planets. Now that Mars has passed its major push of publicity, other planets are allowed to come up. So we've got Jupiter and Saturn very low in the eastern sky, so still very tough to see, but in the pre-dawn, getting higher and higher every night. Jupiter is lower and brighter, Saturn is higher and yellowish. And Mercury, also very low down, pre-dawn, actually very near Jupiter. In fact, very close to Mercury the morning of March 5th. It will be less than a degree away. Jupiter is the much brighter of the two. You might want to use binoculars, make sure the Sun's not up yet, but look, binoculars you'll need a clear view to the eastern horizon. And then I will be annoying you talking about Jupiter and Saturn being in the sky for months to come. Mercury will disappear in a couple weeks and go back to hiding.
Mat Kaplan: I would hate for us to be accused of being overly enamored of Mars. We love all planets equally.
Bruce Betts: Yes. Yes we do.
Mat Kaplan: And a few moons too.
Bruce Betts: We move on to this week in space history. First, I'll stop laughing, because on a sad note, 1966, Gemini 9 primary crew, Charles Bassett and Elliot See, were killed in a T38 plane crash. Onto much happier news, 2007, New Horizons flew past Jupiter. Got cool pictures and data while they were going. Onto Random. Space. Fact. As of February 2021, in other words now, there have been 101 crewed space flights to the International Space Station.
Mat Kaplan: That's so impressive. And all of them successful.
Bruce Betts: Well, depending on how you define success. There was one abort. And in fact, I don't actually know where the Soyuz abort counts, so somewhere between 100 and 101. There's a lot, there's been a lot. And it kind of makes you wonder though, doesn't it, how many uncrewed space flights there've been? Well we'll come back to that.
Mat Kaplan: That's going to be very handy. I forgot about that fairly recent Soyuz abort. At least it worked exactly the way that it was supposed to.
Bruce Betts: Yes, it was very successful from that standpoint, obviously it kept the crew safe. So in that respect, perfectly successful, but not to the space station. Let us tackle the trivia contest. We have two trivia contest answers because we're so overwhelmed by poetry, we put off the winners of that until this week. So let's start with the more recent and simpler, at least less time consuming one, which was, "How many lasers are onboard the Perseverance rover?" There was a complexity, yet again, that I didn't think about. But how'd we do in the answers?
Mat Kaplan: Let me describe that complexity to you. It came from at least one person, and there might've been another that I missed, Ben Drought in Iowa said there were 4 lasers. He counted 3 on Perseverance itself, which I'm sure you will describe to us, but it turns out there is a small laser altimeter on the Ingenuity helicopter, and he says, "It may not be part of the rover, but Ingenuity is onboard," quote unquote, "as of time question was asked, so its altimeter counts."
Bruce Betts: That's true, and I forgot about that, just thinking about Perseverance, but I'm glad our listeners didn't, so we will take three or four as the right answer in the contest, anyone who got chosen by random.org. Do you want me to describe stuff, or do you want to talk people?
Mat Kaplan: Well, I have a poem that'll help us get started with this. It comes from our poem laureate, Dave-
Bruce Betts: Another Dave poem?
Mat Kaplan: Yes, I can't help myself. I guess he can't help himself either. Dave Fairchild in Kansas with Apologies to Yankee Doodle. I'll do my best with this. Perseverance went to Mars, riding on a rocket. Had three lasers, microphones, and cameras in its pocket. Supercam has two hooked up, they're both a trailblazer. Sherlock has the other one and it's a UV laser.
Bruce Betts: Yes, and as you saw from those, he's captured the essence of the answers. They're two lasers in Supercam, one in infrared and one visible. And then one in Sherlock instrument, a UV laser. And one on Ingenuity, the helicopter, which as of right now, is indeed still onboard or underboard the rover.
Mat Kaplan: Here's our winner. It's a first time, he's a first time winner, Sam Cogar, in West Virginia, who gave us the number three and adds, "I love the show. Thanks for always letting me know What's Up." Congratulations Sam, you're not only What's Up now, you've won yourself actually two things, a PlanetFest '21 t-shirt...And by the way, we sure had a good time over the weekend doing PlanetFest, and thank you to all of you who attended. Thank you again to all of you who've written notes to us since the end of PlanetFest and the landing of Perseverance, of course. One came from Joe Ladd, "PlanetFest '21 was a blast! Hats off to Mat, Bruce, the entire TPS team, for making such a wonderfully educational, interactive, and entertaining evening event." But back to Sam, he does get that t-shirt and he's going to get a copy of The Big Book of Mars by Marc Hartzman, that delightful book by Marc. And Marc of course, was one of our participants in that PlanetFest '21 weekend.
Bruce Betts: Congratulations.
Mat Kaplan: I got one more that I'll read to you from Laura Dodd in California. "Bruce, I would use a high-powered laser to coax Martian cats out to play, proving that there is indeed superior life on the red planet." Hmm. Maybe all those canale are just scratch marks?
Bruce Betts: Those are some big, big cats that I don't want to [crosstalk 00:42:37].
Mat Kaplan: Big cats. All right, well we'll go now onto the poetry contest, which most of you expected would be resolved last week, but we really needed the extra time because as Bruce said, we were inundated by excellent verse in both quantity and quality. But we've reached our decision, we've reached our rendezvous with destiny. So has Perseverance. We start with two runners-up, this one from Mark Little in Northern Ireland, which he title The Journey. Mat and Bruce went out to play with dreams inside their pocket. With friends in tow, and H2O, they built themselves a rocket. Ham sandwich wrapped, inside they strapped their torsos, three, two, one. A distant glow they pointed to, their journey had begun. Sailors and conquerors, mappers, tackers, and birds, had been this way before them in stories they had heard. Months passed, along with some bad jokes they told along the way, reverse engine burst, heat dispersed, upon their landing day. Exiting the spacecraft, grinning like two cats, "How random, Mat." "We made it, Bruce!" As on big Joe they sat, enthralled and in high spirits, such an opportunity. But they let out a sigh with a tear in their eye at what they didn't see. Marvin didn't greet them. No John Carter or Mark Watney, no Robinson Crusoe or his chimpanzee. In fact, no one from TV. Overcome by their emotions, back home they determined to go. "TV's just lies," the two of them cried, "Let's stick-"
Bruce Betts: "Let's stick to radio."
Mat Kaplan: Ah, thank you Mark. One correction there, he didn't have a chimpanzee, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, he had a monkey. I think it was a spider monkey, but definitely not a chimp. The chimp would've stolen all his oxygen and made it stick instead of the monkey just messing around with the [crosstalk 00:44:34].
Bruce Betts: Yeah, the chimpanzee would've made no sense whatsoever, would've made the story completely unrealistic.
Mat Kaplan: Good point. Bruce, you got one for us.
Bruce Betts: From Mel Powell in California, a short one. Enter, descend, land. Arriving to visit Mars. Seven minutes, AHHH!
Mat Kaplan: It fits, it's a haiku, five, seven, five, it's just that last syllable. It was only one, but it just lasted a while, I love it. Hey, we're onto the winners. We said we would pick five winners, all of whom will receive a PlanetFest '21 t-shirt. So here's the first. Congratulations Wesley Hanes in Georgia. Red dot. Adrift like me in lonely space, a long way from the warming Sun. I left the Earth, my home, behind to rendezvous with you someday. Red disk. As I draw neigh, excitement builds. How large you've grown in recent days. I see you moons, those little points that whirl around, around again. Red globe. You're now a proper world indeed. I see your mountains, craters, clouds. All systems go, no turning back, here goes. The fiery plunge has come. Red land. I'm here at last, and what a sight. This place, so stark, so cold, so grand. I must unlock its mysteries, that's why my makers sent me here. I think about them frequently, those humans back on lovely Earth. Will they someday, so many years from now, consider this at last red home? Congratulations again Wesley. We have some special guests to help us out with this. Here to read one from Todd Barnel in Arizona is The Planetary Society's chief operating officer Jennifer Vaughn.
Jennifer Vaughn: A fresh air rising. A new generation lights a candle to the dark between worlds. A fresh eye peering into an ancient air. A dissipated guarding an ancient world. Capturing fresh hope in a young girl's eye, gazing at a rose suspended in desert sky.
Bruce Betts: All right, here's our next winner, Chris Mills from Virginia. Congratulations. Sisters three, broken free from the Earth toward the stars, out to Mars they will surf. Arrivals here now appear hand in hand, humankind intertwined on wild land. Sister one in her run hopes to spy seasons turn, gases churn, and dust fly. Sister two splits in two, one for sky, one for ground, to drive around, [inaudible 00:47:30]. Sister three, rovingly, will embrace Jezero, water flow, and life's trace. She will bring a flying thing while she's there, learning more how to explore from the air. Back at home, our eyes roam across the night. Small we are, seeing far with each flight.
Mat Kaplan: Chris, congratulations. Here's our fourth entry, and this time it's our colleague Sarah Al Amiri, who is the Society's digital community manager. Sarah chose to read this work by frequent contributor Jean Lewen from Washington state.
Sarah Al Amiri: Early mariners sailed celestial seas. Pursuit of knowledge was the wind that blowed. Vikings followed to distant shores, where water may once have flowed. An inspiration of chronicled fictitious tales, authors to paper put pen, for telling vast possibilities not as never, but when. Curiosity still drives us on, and opportunity affords us more. With perseverance, we will travel far to find what Mars has in store.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you Jean. Last, but far from least, we have this lovely poem from Alice Weller, who is six years old. It will be read by the Society's communications strategy and Canadian space policy advisor Kate Howells.
Kate Howells: Little flying rocket zooming through the stars, is it very dark out there on your way to Mars? Will you find an alien or fossils or a bug? If I find one when I get there, I'll give it a hug.
Mat Kaplan: That's it, PlanetFest t-shirts to all five of you, congratulations. Bruce, as you know, we couldn't pick a favorite among these, so we turned once again to our old friend random.org to pick the grand prize winner for us. That winner is going to get a copy of Linda Schweizer's brilliant book Cosmic Odyssey: How Intrepid Astronomers at Palomar Observatory Changed Our View of the Universe, and Chris Miller in Virginia, that's you. Congratulations once again.
Bruce Betts: Great job everyone.
Mat Kaplan: And thank you to all of you who did not get yours read by us during the show. We appreciate you one and all. Great, great work. I am just amazed by the listeners to this show as always.
Bruce Betts: Onto a new trivia contest with a shorter answer than that one. "How many uncrewed space flights have there been to the International Space Station?" That's it.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, that's it. That's simple.
Bruce Betts: Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: Wow, okay, that makes it easy. You've got until Wednesday, March 3rd, at 8 AM Pacific time to get us this answer. You may win yourself a Planetary Society rubber asteroid. They're just that popular. We're done.
Bruce Betts: All right everybody, go out there, look up at the night sky, and think about doggy belly rubs. Thank you and good night.
Mat Kaplan: Aw, they love those belly rubs, don't they? Talking about dogs here, right? That's Bruce Betts, he's the chief scientist for The Planetary Society who joins us every week for What's Up. It's time for a Mars party with the Amoeba people. Here's their brand new tune by that name. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members. Mark Hilverda, yeah, that Mark Hilverda, is our associate producer. Josh Goil composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlaser. Ad Ares. Take it away, 'Moebs.
Amoeba People: Perseverance traveling through the emptiness of space. And then she lands, will she find a microbial Martian race? Nobody knows for sure, and NASA has high hopes. And whether or not we'll find those little guys, there's one thing that we know. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance lands in those ancient Martian sands. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance land in those ancient Martian sands. Red rover. Red rover. Send Perseverance over, and even though we're pretty sure she won't find a single batch of clover in Jezero Crater, where Perseverance will alight, perhaps we'll find what's left behind of ancient Martian life. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance lands in those ancient Martian sands. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance land in those ancient Martian sands. Red rover. Red rover. Send Perseverance over. Red rover. Red rover. Send Perseverance over. Red rover. Red rover. Send Perseverance over. Red rover. Red rover. Send Perseverance over. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance lands in those ancient Martian sands. Mars party. Ooh, Mars party. Ooh. When Perseverance lands in those ancient Martian sands. Ooh.