Home Technology NASA’s Perseverance Rover Landing: Exciting Times Ahead!
NASA’s Perseverance Rover Landing: Exciting Times Ahead!

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Landing: Exciting Times Ahead!

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NASA’s Perseverance Rover is the most recent U.S. mission to the Red Planet. I watched the landing Thursday afternoon on NASA’s YouTube channel along with 2.2 million others (note – the broadcast was shared on other channels, so I’m not sure of the total viewership worldwide). The sequencing and animation of final events of the seven-month, 292-million-mile journey was impressive, but the enthusiasm of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mission Control team during the final minutes, including the spontaneous celebration after notification of the landing, was inspiring.

There are many exciting scientific events planned for this mission. The landing occurred at Jezero Crater, an area of Mars that once contained a lake similar in size to Lake Tahoe more than three billion years ago. The Perseverance Rover has equipment designed to gather soil and rock samples as well as conduct other experiments. As one of NASA’s spokespersons said, “Engineering makes the science possible. Now it’s time for the scientists to take over from the engineers.”

The mission plans to utilize high-resolution cameras, ground-penetrating radar, spectrometers, and a SuperCam to hopefully identify whether or not ancient Mars hosted life. Perseverance has a drill attached to the end of its robotic arm that will collect approximately 40 samples from specific sites and seal them inside special tubes. This material will return to Earth for analysis by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, planned for 2031 or later.

Another instrument called Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) will generate oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere, which is 95 percent carbon dioxide. If this effort is successful, it could help future human-led expeditions sustain their stay on Mars without transporting special oxygen canisters.

Perseverance also has a four-pound helicopter, which will attempt to be the first to fly in the skies of Mars. If the helicopter’s trips are successful, future missions could deploy them with sensors and utilize them as scouts for the rovers.

The plan for the rover is to travel approximately 15 miles, taking two years to do so. If Perseverance is as lucky as Curiosity, its mission could be extended (Curiosity is in its ninth year).

Having witnessed the American space race to the moon back in the 1960s, I am an enthusiast of space travel and the engineering and scientific accomplishments that accompany it. This mission was nearly 10 years in the planning, building, and implementation phases and is estimated to cost $3 billion. While that is a lot of money for any individual or company, it’s a small part of the U.S. budget.

I have also been a big supporter of the APUS Space Studies program. Developed and led by Dr. Patrick Ford from 2000-2010 and currently led by Dr. Ed Albin, the Space Studies program has educated current and future NASA employees (the current medical director of NASA, Dr. J.D. Polk, is an alum as well as an APUS trustee), and has included eminent astronomers and scientists as faculty.

The program has advanced from a single degree to multiple degrees hosted under the APUS Center for Space Studies, which offers associate, bachelor’s, and master’s of science programs in Space Studies and concentrations in aerospace science, astronomy, and space policy. We continue to embrace the exploration of space in our Exoplanet studies, Supernova research, and Variable Star research with our Planewave CDK24 telescope and with the soon-to-be-installed radio telescope. Our STEM school’s bachelor of science program in electrical engineering contains a concentration in communications that covers topics such as RF/microwave engineering, antennas, and radar systems, all vital on missions like Perseverance’s trip to Mars.

In my opinion, the benefits of a mission like Perseverance always outweigh its costs. Much of our technology advances today stem from tools and instruments invented for America’s space program over the last 60 years. While the financial needs for eradicating poverty, educating our citizenry, and redoing our infrastructure are substantial, tech advances and skills acquired in this mission and others will certainly be deployed in future situations here on Earth.

There will be much reported on Perseverance over the next few days, weeks, months, and years. I look forward to reading about the accomplishments as well as seeing pictures, videos, and potentially hearing the sounds of Mars from the first two microphones ever deployed there. Cheers to the team that built the rover, its instruments, the rockets sending it there, and the communication structure to relay information back to Earth!

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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