Perseverance is on Mars, and now this Canadian-born engineer's work really begins
TORONTO -- Landing on Mars was just the beginning for Perseverance and the team of NASA scientists who put the rover there.
Canadian-born Farah Alibay is part ofthe team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She says that waiting for the rover to land successfully on Mars was tough, and it wasn’t until that first picture of the red planet came through that she really realized they made it.
“When I saw that first picture of Mars that came down, we’ve had so many more beautiful pictures since, but I think that’s what made me realize ‘wow, we’re there, we’re on another planet, we’re here, we’ve got a job to do now,’” Alibay told CTV’s Your Morningon Wednesday.
That job is looking for life on Mars, but it’s not as simple as driving Perseverance around remotely. Multiple challenges face the mission, not least of which is the distance between Earth and Mars.
“A single command to get from Earth to Mars takes about 12 minutes, and then 12 minutes to come back. So real-time commanding would be awful, it would take so long,” she said.
Instead, they pre-plan and program each day for the rover.
“Every minute, every second of the day is planned,” said Alibay, who grew up in the Montreal area.
Her and her colleagues work during the Martian night to program the next day’s adventures, and upload the programs to the rover in the morning. By evening, Perseverance has executed the plans and sent reports back, and they do it all again.
Distance isn’t the only factor; time on the red planet also factors in.
“A Martian day is slightly longer than an Earth day,” said Alibay.
About 40 minutes longer to be exact.
“My day shifts by 40 minutes every day,” she said. “So I’ve had permanent jet lag for the past two weeks.”
Alibay's job isn't all about planning and programming the rover’s day, either. There’s a mission within the mission: it’s tucked beneath Perseverance and it’s called Ingenuity. It's a little helicopter that hopes to take the first flight on another planet.
“We’re going to drop her on the surface of Mars, probably in the next month, and she’s going to attempt the first powered flight on another planet,” said Alibay.
Helping this little helicopter take flight is Alibay’s main job on the mission, and one she’s excited about.
“It hasn’t been that long since we’ve flown on Earth and now we’re going to another planet and trying to fly, so that’s going to be amazing," she said.