On Thursday, February 18th, the Perseverance Rover reached Mars and safely landed on the surface of the planet. The machine, which was built from parts of the previous Curiosity Rover, is on a mission to search for hints that organic organisms once existed on Mars. Perseverance was sent to a crater on the planet to investigate the delta of an ancient river. On Earth, deltas like this are prime habitats for organisms, so the hope is that this delta will prove that ancient life existed on the red planet.
Perseverance was set down on the planet by a scientist named Swati Mohan, who happens to be a massive Star Trek fan. In fact, she’s said Star Trek was the reason she became a scientist.
‘Star Trek’ Motivated her to Explore Space
Mahon shared bits and pieces of her inspirational journey from immigrant to NASA scientist in her bio on the NASA website. Mahon’s family immigrated to the United States when she was a year old. She grew up in the D.C. metro area and was interested in space for most of her childhood.
She was nine years old when she watched Star Trek for the first time, and she was immediately captivated by the idea of exploring other planets.
“I remember watching my first episode of Star Trek at the age of 9, and seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking ‘I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.’ The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn.”
Though Mohan was fascinated with the universe and all the secrets it held, she didn’t think she’d be able to make a career out of her interest in space. So, Mahon decided she wanted to be a pediatrician. Everything changed when she studied Physics for the first time in high school. The subject came easily to her and it sparked an interest in engineering, which gave her the path to space exploration she was looking for.
She went on to get a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering and Aeronautics/Astronautics. Mahon had such an aptitude for her studies that she was able to get her Ph.D. from MIT. From there, she landed the dream job of anyone who wants to explore space, a position at NASA. In addition to the Mars 2020 mission, Mahon has worked on a mission to Saturn and a mission to the Moon.
Without Star Trek, she may never have gotten the opportunity to utter the historic words, “Touchdown confirmed.”
‘Star Trek’ Actors React to the Landing
Many of the actors and actresses that brought the Star Trek universe to life still have a passion for space exploration. Their years of fictional exploration sparked an interest in real-life space exploration, and many of them follow the missions at NASA, SpaceX, and other scientific organizations.
Robert Picardo, who played The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager, congratulated NASA on another successful project and conveyed congratulations to the Mars 2020 team as well. Picardo is on the Board of Directors of an organization called The Planetary Society that advocates for space exploration. He has done several projects with them and often shares about the organization on his Twitter account.
The Perseverance Rover will remain on the surface of Mars to collect samples. Though the rover itself won’t be making the return trip to Earth, the samples it collects will. A future mission to retrieve the samples from the surface is already underway.