Thursday morning, NASA’s latest Mars rover, Perseverance, lifted off from Florida on its way to the Red Planet. The launch is especially significant for one East Tennessee scientist who watched the liftoff from her home in Knox County.
Dr. Linda Kah is a geologist at the University of Tennessee. Her specialty is sedimentary rocks, the kind often formed in or near a watery environment. She worked on NASA’s Curiosity rover, and she is also part of the team that will be evaluating what Perseverance finds.
This mission is not the first to look for clues of past life on Mars. But Perseverance has a leg-up that other robotic explorers have not, Dr. Kah told WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth. A space probe in orbit around the planet picked up hints of carbonate minerals at the rover's landing site, Jezero Crater. On Earth, Dr. Kah says, carbonate minerals are nearly always associated with biological processes.
While their minds are on the potential wonders of Mars, the exploration team made sure Perseverance carried a reminder of what's happening on its home planet: A plaque honors healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. It is bolted to the rover's exterior.
Perseverance is set to land in Jezero Crater next February, and its planned mission on the Martian surface will take one year.