It took 203 days to travel the 293 million miles through space for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Perseverance Rover to reach Mars and a few more hours for the craft to successfully land on the planet Thursday.
A video of staff in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California shows staff on their feet cheering as the rover hits the ground to begin its mission.
“This is what we can do as a country,” a narrator on the video says.
“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally — when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in an article on the landing posted on the federal agency’s Mars mission website.
“The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration,” Jurczyk said. “The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”
Now that the rover is in place its health is being assessed before work begins, according to the NASA website:
About the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to characterize the region’s geology and past climate, a fundamental part of its mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. To that end, the Mars Sample Return campaign, being planned by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), will allow scientists on Earth to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Red Planet.
“Because of today’s exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA, said in the article. “Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental — including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”
“Some 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide, Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator,” the article said. “Scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.”
Perseverance will cover the Jezero region in search of fossilized remains of ancient microscopic Martian life and collect samples as it travels using sophisticated technology abroad the rover.
“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “While we’ll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harbored life.”
NASA also said the historic trip is a stepping stone for humans to travel to Mars.
“Landing on Mars is always an incredibly difficult task and we are proud to continue building on our past success,” JPL Director Michael Watkins said. “But, while Perseverance advances that success, this rover is also blazing its own path and daring new challenges in the surface mission.”
“We built the rover not just to land but to find and collect the best scientific samples for return to Earth, and its incredibly complex sampling system and autonomy not only enable that mission, they set the stage for future robotic and crewed missions,” he continued.
“Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with [European Space Agency] ESA, will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis,” the article said.
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