NASA’s Perseverance rover has landed safely on Mars. The spacecraft survived its journey through the Martian atmosphere and made a soft touch at Jezero Crater.
What happened: Perseverance began its descent into the Martian atmosphere on Thursday afternoon, a process affectionately called the “seven minutes of terror. The spacecraft survived scorching temperatures thanks to its heat shield. Its parachute deployed without a hitch, the rover was able to locate and navigate to a safe landing point, and the descent device lowered the spacecraft to the surface. NASA confirmed a successful touchdown at 3:55 p.m. EST. During its descent, Perseverance went from 12,000 miles per hour to just 1.7 mph in seven minutes.
Due to the distance between Earth and Mars, communication between NASA mission control and the spacecraft is delayed by 11 minutes. This meant that the entire landing process had to be accomplished autonomously. The on-board systems monitored the surface for hazards during descent and kept the rover away from any threat.
What is he doing on Mars? Perseverance’s predecessors – Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity – have led to compelling revelations of what Mars looks like now and what it once was. Scientists have learned that the planet was once a hot planet teeming with lakes and rivers, and was home to complex organic matter. Together, these key ingredients suggest that Mars may have been habitable for microbial life in the ancient past.
The main objective of Perseverance is to seek evidence of such ancient life. The rover is armed with 23 cameras and a host of instruments designed to find and identify biosignatures (like amino acids or fatty acids) or other macroscopic evidence in the rock that indicates there was once life on Mars. It will also drill into Martian rock and collect samples that will be returned to Earth in the 2030s for further laboratory study – which could be the first sample return mission since March.
The landing site, Jezero Crater, is an ancient lake bed with an ancient delta where the waters may have deposited sediment that could preserve fossilized material or other evidence of life. Mission Control will now spend several weeks testing and calibrating the instruments before the rover begins to explore Jezero in earnest this summer.