After a roughly 292-million-mile journey capped by a treacherous landing procedure dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” the Mars rover Perseverance built at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena successfully landed Thursday on the surface of the Red Planet.
Minutes after the landing was confirmed at 12:55 p.m. California time, the rover’s first photographs from the surface of Mars were displayed on screens at JPL, giving mission managers a view of Perseverance’s new home, where it will search for signs of ancient life. The rover touched down in what’s known as the Jezero Crater, which is believed to have housed an ancient body of water the size of Lake Tahoe.
The landing sparked cheers at the mission control center at JPL, where the anxiety of the “seven minutes of terror” landing procedure had scientists and mission managers visibly on edge.
Perseverance is the most technologically advanced rover ever sent to Mars, tasked with the primary mission of detecting signs of ancient life on a planet that has fascinated scientists and science-fiction buffs for decades. The rover will also be the first leg in a multi-pronged effort to transport samples of Martian soil back to Earth for the first time. The SUV-sized rover is also carrying an astronomical first — a small helicopter dubbed Ingenuity that will become the first such craft to fly on another planet.
Perseverance will also collect rocks and soil that will be stored for a future return to Earth, marking the beginning of an unprecedented round-trip journey to another planet.
The historic recovery of Mars soil and rock samples will be done in partnership with the European Space Agency. The Perseverance rover will drill and collect samples, then store them on the surface of the planet. Current plans call for the launch of a “fetch rover” in 2026 that will collect the samples, place them in a rocket that will launch from the surface of Mars, rendezvousing with an orbiter that will capture the samples and return them to Earth.
The “Ingenuity” helicopter, meanwhile, will allow for a wider exploration of the planet’s surface.
Perseverance’s primary science mission is astrobiological, searching for signs of ancient life. The mission is a natural extension of earlier rover missions that have uncovered evidence that the planet once featured running water.
Some of its additional scientific equipment will also help pave the way for future human missions to the moon and Mars. The rover is scheduled to operate for about two Earth years — or one Martian year.
Also aboard the rover: the names of 10.9 million people who signed up online. The names are included on three silicon chips embedded on a plate emblazoned with the words “Explore as one” — in Morse Code.
The rover launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30, 2020, propelled on its way by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
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