WASHINGTON DC, USA: NASA’s science rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another world, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday and landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, its first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as radio signals confirmed that the six-wheeled rover had survived its perilous descent and arrived within its target zone inside Jezero Crater, site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed
To land on Mars, the rover started its descent at a speed of over 20,000 kilometres per hour (12,000 miles per hour). A parachute and a powered descent mechanism then slowed the rover to about 3 km/h before a large sky crane lowered it on three bridle cords down to the surface of the planet, touching down on its six wheels.
The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 472 million kilometres (293 million miles) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 19,000 kilometres an hour (12,000 miles per hour) to begin its approach to touchdown on the planet’s surface.
The spacecraft’s self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of manoeuvres that NASA dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.
"NASA works. When we put our arms together and our hands together and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does."@NASAJPL chief engineer and landing veteran Rob Manning celebrates #NASAPersevere's successful #CountdownToMars: pic.twitter.com/Bo74pC4xLO
— NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
“This is a sign: NASA works, NASA works,” Rob Manning, chief engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said moments after the landing. “And we put our arms together, and our hands together, and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does, this is what we can do as a country.”
The landing represented the riskiest part of two-year, $2.7 billion endeavour whose primary aim is to search for possible fossilised signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars some three billion years ago, when the fourth planet from the sun was warmer, wetter and potentially hospitable to life.
Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth – the first such specimens ever collected by humans from another planet.