After a seven-month journey, traversing 472 million kilometres, NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover has touched down on Mars. Following the successful landing at an ancient river delta called Jezero Crater, Perseverance has started sending images of the surface of the Red Planet.
About the size of a car, the 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 characterise 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," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. "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."
Packed with groundbreaking technology
Equipped with seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars, and its exquisitely complex sample caching system—the first of its kind sent into space—Perseverance will scour the Jezero region for fossilised remains of ancient microscopic Martian life, taking samples along the way.
"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."
"Landing on Mars is always an incredibly difficult task and we are proud to continue building on our past success," said JPL Director Michael Watkins. "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."
The Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2) sensor suite collected data about Mars' atmosphere during entry, and the Terrain-Relative Navigation system autonomously guided the spacecraft during final descent. The data from both are expected to help future human missions land on other worlds more safely and with larger payloads.
The power system that provides electricity and heat for Perseverance through its exploration of Jezero Crater is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. The US Department of Energy (DOE) provided it to NASA through an ongoing partnership to develop power systems for civil space applications.
Confirmation of the successful touchdown of the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world was announced in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55pm EST (2:25am IST).
"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," said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
"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. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s."
The Mars 2020 mission was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020. The Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.