In addition to the plate carrying nearly 11 million names, NASA is also sending a tribute to those fighting against COVID-19 to Mars on the Perseverance rover.
Scheduled to launch July 20, the space agency said that it would put a small aluminum plate dedicated to those in the medical community as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others,” said Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA JPL in a statement. “It is our hope that when future generations travel to Mars and happen upon our rover, they will be reminded that back on Earth in the year 2020 there were such people.”
The 3-by-5 inch plate shows Earth “supported by the medical community — represented by the ancient symbol of the serpent-entwined rod,” NASA added in the statement.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the launch of the Perseverance rover was not delayed, though it did impact their work, Wallace added in a news conference.
“It really began to affect us in mid-March,” Wallace explained during the news conference, according to Space.com. “We were at a critical time in the processing for the spacecraft. All of the elements were down at Kennedy Space Center, and we had to fully assemble and do the final testing of the spacecraft. It had to be done right — you can’t make a mistake at that point — and of course the environment made that a lot more difficult.”
In March, Fox News reported the pandemic, which has affected more than 8.37 million people worldwide, was not going to push back the launch of the rover.
The entire agency was forced to move to Stage 3 “mandatory telework status” in mid-March.
Originally scheduled to launch July 17, the launch window for the rover extends until Aug. 11, Space.com reports. This is due to the limited alignment windows of Mars and Earth, something that happens once every 26 months.
The rover, which was recently renamed to Perseverance, will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks.
Perseverance will also have a small, autonomous helicopter, known as Ingenuity, that will let researchers understand the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.
Once Perseverance lands on Mars at the Jezero Crater, it will join the still functioning Curiosity rover and the now-deceased Opportunity rover on the Red Planet. Unlike Curiosity or Opportunity, this rover will carry the “first helicopter that will fly on another planet,” NASA added.
NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.