Join ASU Mastcam-Z team for a live watch party of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover landing

February 10, 2021

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021. Onboard the rover is the ASU-led mast-mounted camera system "Mastcam-Z," which can zoom from wide angle to telephoto, take 3D images and videos, and take photos in up to 11 unique colors.

ASU will hold a live landing watch party on Feb. 18 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Arizona time (MST) with Mastcam-Z principal investigator Jim Bell, Mastcam-Z ground data system lead Ernest Cisneros and other members of the ASU team, hosted by School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa. This event is free and open to the public. The event includes the NASA broadcast of the landing live on NASA TV from Mission Control beginning at 12:15 p.m. Arizona time (MST). An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Download Full Image

Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the red planet. It will collect carefully selected and documented rock and sediment samples for future return to Earth, search for signs of ancient microbial life, characterize the planet’s geology and climate, and pave the way for human exploration beyond the moon.

Perseverance will touch down on Mars at approximately 1:55 p.m. Arizona time (MST)/3:55 p.m. EST. During landing, the rover plunges through the thin Martian atmosphere, with the heat shield first, at a speed of over 12,000 mph (about 20,000 kph). A parachute and powered descent slow the rover down to about 2 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second). A large sky crane then lowers the rover on three bridle cords to land softly on six wheels.

"The so-called 'Seven Minutes of Terror' that the rover has to go through to land safely on Mars is both exciting and, of course, scary," explained Bell, who is a professor and planetary scientist at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. "But the system has been designed by some of the best engineers in the world, is based on the successful landing system used for the Curiosity rover back in 2012, and has been tested as much as possible back here on Earth."

Perseverance arrives at Mars. Video courtesy JPL.

The rover’s new home is Jezero Crater, a large impact crater about 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide just north of the Martian equator. Jezero once contained a lake, which scientists think is one of the most ideal places to find evidence of ancient microbial life. The main question Perseverance is trying to answer is: Was there ever ancient life on Mars? To answer that question, the rover will collect and store the most compelling rock and soil samples for return to Earth by a future mission. Once on Earth, scientists can use a variety of sophisticated instruments, many of them too large and bulky to transport to Mars, to help answer this question.

About Mastcam-Z

Mastcam-Z is a dual camera system that can zoom in (hence the "Z" in "Mastcam-Z"), focus and create 3D pictures and panoramas at a variety of scales. This will allow the Mars 2020 rover to provide a detailed examination of both close and distant objects on Mars.

The two cameras are mounted on the Mars 2020 rover mast at the eye level of a 6-foot-6-inches tall person. They are separated by 9.5 inches to provide stereo vision and they will produce images of color quality similar to that of a consumer digital HD camera (2 megapixels).

This image, taken at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shows a close-up of the head of Mars 2020's remote sensing mast. The mast head contains the SuperCam instrument (its lens is in the large circular opening). In the gray boxes beneath mast head are the two Mastcam-Z imagers. On the exterior sides of those imagers are the rover's two navigation cameras. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Images from Mastcam-Z could be available in the week following landing (after the rover's mast is successfully deployed and the cameras complete their initial checkout), on the NASA and JPL Mars 2020 websites and on the Mastcam-Z Mars Images webpage.

"We're super excited about sharing the raw images with the world,” Bell said. “And we look forward to providing processed and calibrated Mastcam-Z images and mosaics as soon after landing as we possibly can.”

The cameras are designed to help other Mars 2020 experiments on the rover by looking at the whole landscape and identifying rocks and soil (regolith) that deserve a closer look by other instruments. They will also spot important samples for the rover to core and cache on the surface of Mars, for eventual return (by a future mission) to Earth.

Bell leads the Mastcam-Z team, which includes dozens of scientists, engineers, operations specialists, managers and students at ASU and other universities, companies and government labs around the world. The team includes deputy principal investigator Justin Maki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the Planetary Society, which serves as the instrument’s education and public outreach partner; and Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., which is the prime subcontractor for instrument development and uplink operations.

About the Mars 2020 Mission

Mars 2020 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020 and will arrive at Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The mission is expected to last at least one Mars year (687 Earth days). NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

The mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. The mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission also seeks to gather knowledge and to demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


School of Life Sciences awarded JEDI seed grants for inclusive STEM education initiatives

February 10, 2021

The Arizona State University School of Life Sciences was recently awarded Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) seed grants from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The grants will support targeted initiatives to improve student outcomes in biology and STEM through inclusive curriculum, teaching and mentorship, both within the School of Life Sciences and in partnership with other schools and departments across The College. woman holding small mammal in her hands School of Life Sciences Professor Sharon Hall will partner with faculty and students across The College to lead targeted initiatives to improve student experience in biology and STEM programs at ASU. Download Full Image

“The natural sciences JEDI seed grant opportunity signals that our deans are serious about improving the diversity and culture of STEM to better match our ASU Charter and the community we represent in Arizona and the nation,” said School of Life Sciences Professor Sharon Hall, who is one of the primary applicants of both awarded proposals. 

Hall also serves as the School of Life Sciences JEDI special adviser to the director and as chair of the school’s new JEDI committee. 

“Our newly formed (School of Life Sciences) JEDI committee is pressing us to avoid the trap of 'all talk' and move our shared priorities to action,” she said. 

“Luckily, the leadership in (the school) is equally excited and motivated to drive tangible, lasting improvements in our unit. These two JEDI seed grants will support several concrete actions that we’re taking as a part of a larger JEDI initiative in life sciences. We’re reviewing everything, from policies and procedures to how we teach to identifying and rooting out implicit biases that fragment us as a community.” 

The College's natural sciences division and representatives of its JEDI framework accepted proposals from students, staff, faculty and administrators. The seed grant program is a key part of The College’s JEDI initiative, which seeks to support significant and sustainable contributions to equity and inclusion across The College’s natural sciences division, which includes the School of Life Sciences, the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the Department of Physics and the Department of Psychology. 

"We are proud of the work being done within the School of Life Sciences to develop more inclusive STEM programming for students,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College. “Through these innovative solutions, we will continue to build an environment where all students can thrive, leading to greater scientific discovery and impact both locally and globally." 

RISE Teams

Hall and School of Life Sciences Director Kenro Kusumi were awarded $10,000 for their proposal “RISE Teams: Improving Undergraduate Outcomes in Biology using Research for Inclusive STEM Education (RISE) Best-Practices.” 

Also collaborating on the project are School of Life Sciences Professor and Associate Director of graduate programs Emilia Martins; Professor and Associate Director of undergraduate programs Shelley Haydel; Assistant Director of undergraduate programs Joshua Caulkins; Associate Professor and Director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education (RISE) Center Sara Brownell; Director of the Teaching Innovation Center (TIC) Amy Pate; and Nargish Patwoary, who is serving as the undergraduate adviser to the School of Life Sciences JEDI Committee. 

They plan to use the grant funding to promote widespread culture change in the School of Life Sciences, improving unity and encouraging belonging for undergraduate students in all biology and life science majors. 

Nationwide trends show that underrepresented minority students leave science majors at significantly higher rates than their classmates, despite entering college with the same level of interest. Student listening sessions align with institutional data to show a lack of belonging across these student communities, which combine with perceived exclusion in introductory courses to lead to discouragement and higher dropout rates.

“The life science disciplines have a long history of discrimination and exclusion in our country and beyond, and we feel remnants of this legacy in (the School of Life Sciences),” said Hall. “Our inclusive ASU charter and diverse undergraduate population can make it seem like we are past this history — but scratch the surface and it’s clear that we are not yet there.”

The project will engage mixed teams of students and faculty to conduct an extensive review of current courses and adopt and train in evidence-based inclusive strategies in pedagogy and curriculum. 

Also, beginning this year, three graduate fellows per year will receive summer RA-ships to work collaboratively in teams with faculty who teach introductory biology, general genetics and evolution — the required gateway courses for all biology majors. 

These team members will participate in an inclusive curriculum training developed by the TIC and RISE centers and will meet weekly during the summer session to conduct formal course reviews and recommendations. 

“The training exercise will include engagement with peer-reviewed literature on the development and maintenance of inclusive STEM classrooms,” said Caulkins, one of the co-developers of the inclusive training initiative. “Giving faculty and graduate student participants the time to reflect on this literature is crucial. The course-based projects they design and implement will help us reduce the achievement gap we so frequently see in STEM courses.”

INCLUDES Training Program

Along with Hall, Associate Professor Christy Till of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Clinical Assistant Professor Ara Austin of the School of Molecular Sciences were awarded $9,550 for their interdisciplinary proposal “Natural Sciences INCLUsion DEpartmental (INCLUDES) Training Program.”

The grant will help establish an annual workplace climate and inclusion training program to address issues of exclusion within academic STEM communities.

An initial team of nine trainers — three each from the School of Life Sciences, the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences — will make up a pilot program for The College’s natural science units. 

The team will train in bystander intervention and inclusive teaching and mentoring methods. Trainer education will be conducted by the ADVANCEGeo program, which currently hosts inclusion workshops and training for research environments in geoscience, biology, ecology, chemistry and engineering.

“We are excited to launch these new programs to build greater inclusion and accessibility through innovative training programs and new strategies for curricular design,” said Kusumi. “And we are grateful for the ongoing support of The College as we move forward with plans for measurable and lasting change.”

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences