In February 2021 the NASA/JPL rover was gently placed on the surface of mars by its jet-powered sky crane. It used to be I’d have to use an artist’s rendering like this to show how this worked:
But the Perseverance mission is chock-full of hi-res cameras, and so we can just check the tape to see how it all went down!
Frames from various onboard cameras recording the landing.
In just a few days Perseverance started transmitting new images from the giant crater it now calls home. Here’s a section of a panorama from the rover’s 360° “head-mounted” camera.
These images join a collection of vistas provided to us by Perseverance’s sister rover Curiosity, which landed in 2012 and is still doing good science in the Gale crater, 3,700 km (2,300 miles) away. Here’s a recent image from Curiosity.
And of course we can’t forget the little robots that paved the way for these modern rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (2004), and Soujorner (1997). Here are some photos from those missions.
Spirit’s view from Gusev crater.
Opportunity’s landscape on the other side of Mars from its twin Spirit.
And little Sojourner’s landing site, Ares Vallis.
As a space enthusiast, I’ve been tracking these rovers and looking at the photos they send back my entire adult life. But recently they’ve begun to unsettle me.
How do you feel looking at those landscapes above? Your first response should be a “Wow, I’m looking at the surface of another planet, this is so cool!” But your second thought might be, “Phew. That is some bleak, rugged landscape.”
If you climbed the mountains in the distance of those photos (which are really just the edge of craters) you would be rewarded with more of the same, endless red-brown desolation. You could walk the entire circumference of the planet and you’d never get a break. The only thing that would change is the size and shape of the rocks!
If you mapped Mars to the Earth, the five rover missions would have landed in locations equivalent to the middle of the Atlantic ocean, the west coast of Africa, the middle of the Pacific ocean, Indonesia, and the middle of India.
Imagine the variety of sights and colors these Earth rovers would send back if they landed in those 5 locations! The Indonesia rover, for example, might send back a photo like this:
Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia. After all that Martian rust-colored wasteland doesn’t it feel like your parched eyes are getting a cool drink of water?
After spending just a few minutes looking at Mars photos, you start to deeply appreciate that EARTH IS AWESOME. We’ve got it all. Majestic mountains, glittering oceans, grassy plains, icy tundra, dense jungles, and all the colors of the rainbow (oh yeah, we’ve got rainbows too). Coming back to this appreciation for your home planet is a way to instantly make any day better. It also should give you a renewed sense of urgency to protect our life systems, and not turn Earth into a dead planet rusting away in cold empty space.
The most interesting thing is, you’re not just an astronaut who happens to live on Earth. You too are a product of this planet’s ecosystem and its unstoppable drive towards life. You share the same genetic foundation as the trees, ladybugs, corals, and bluebirds that make this world so colorful. You are one of the landscape features a rover would see if it visited Earth. Alien explorers might say “Oh look, this planet peoples! How lovely!”
In day to day life, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your stresses and struggles, and see yourself as something isolated and separate from the planet. Occasionally you should check back in with the reality that you are a child of Earth. Every atom in your body came from the raw materials of this planet. Your cells evolved hand in glove with the planet’s environment, and your systems are optimized to thrive in an energetic relationship Earth’s air, water, plants, and animal life. That queasy feeling you get looking at the rover photos is your body recognizing that Mars is no place for a human to be.
When you look at a beautiful vista with grass, trees, and clouds, you feel a warm happiness. You’re home. You don’t feel an instinct to harm and destroy that environment.
Can you extend that same kindness to your own Earth-made body?When you see a bright blue sky, do you want to see it choked with smoke and ash? Extend that preservation instinct to yourself, and don’t smoke. Smoking kills the human.
When you see a fresh stream, do you want to pour toxic waste and trash into it?
- Avoid the same thing for yourself. Don’t dump chemicals into the rivers of your bloodstream. Processed foods, massive amounts of sugar, and alcohol all take a big toll on your internal ecosystem. Keep it clean.
When you see an animal basking in the sun or taking a nap, do you begrudge it that rest time?
- Give yourself the same break. Make time and space for good sleep. Sleep is where your internal ecosystem cycles out waste products, resets hormonal levels, and repairs damage you took from the day. Sleep is the foundation of health.
When you see a plant, do you have an instinct to put it in a dark room and let it wither?
- Extend the same kindness to yourself. Your muscles and bones will wither if you don’t give them anything to do. Find things to pull and push against. It doesn’t have to be a formal workout, anything that gets your heart rate up and muscles flexing will let your body bloom as nature intended. Don’t sit at a desk all day and a sofa all night. Your body NEEDS fresh air and movement, not just a few times a week, but every single day.
Think of yourself as a hardcore, extreme environmentalist. It’s just that your speciality is taking care of the part of the environment that happens to be contained in your own body. When you approach your daily choices this way, you’re less likely to pollute and tear down your own ecosystem. You’re the one who has to live there after all!
Make your body an Earthly paradise, not a bleak Martian wasteland!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder