NASA's Rover Lands On Mars

The rover slithered through the Martian atmosphere and landed safely inside a huge crater, the first stop in the space agency's efforts to trace for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

NASA's Rover Lands On Mars
Perseverance Mars Rover shares first images of Mars' surface upon its landing on February 18, 2021. /TWITTER

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s rover, Perseverance, one of the most advanced astrobiology laboratories to be sent to another world, made its landing on Mars on Thursday, February 18.

The rover slithered through the Martian atmosphere and landed safely inside a huge crater, the first stop in the space agency's efforts to trace for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, California, USA burst into rousing cheers as radio signals intimated that the rover had survived its perilous descent and touched down as planned on the floor of Jezero Crater, the site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed.

The six-wheeled vehicle landed to a halt about two kilometers from towering cliffs at the foot of a remnant fan-shaped river delta attached into a corner of the crater billions of years ago and considered a prime spot for geo-biological study on Mars.

"Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars," announced Swati Mohan, the lead guide and operations specialist, from the control room.

The robotic vehicle cruised through the vast reaches of space for almost seven months as it covered the 472 million kilometer distance from Earth and cut through the Martian atmosphere at 19,000 km per hour as it descended towards the surface.

Moments after touchdown, Perseverance shared its first black and white images from the Martian surface, one of them showed the rover's shadow cast on the desolate, rocky landing site.

Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, the SUV-sized rover had already tasted Martian soil by the time of its arrival and was confirmed by signals relayed to Earth from one of several satellites orbiting Mars.

The spacecraft's self-guided descent and landing was achieved after a complex series of maneuvers that NASA terms as "the seven minutes of terror", the most terrifying and challenging part of any robotic spaceflight.

Acting NASA chief Steve Jurczyk called it an "amazing accomplishment,"

"I cannot tell you how overcome with emotion I was," he noted.

US President Joe Biden shared his congratulatory message on Twier while watching Nasa coverage of the event at the White House.

"Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility." he wrote.

The landing was the most dangerous part of a two-year, Ksh295.8million ($2.7 billion) plan to scan for possible fossilized signs of microbes that may have thrived on Mars some three billion years ago when the fourth planet from the sun was warmer, wetter, and potentially suitable to host living things.

Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to draw from Martian rocks for future analysis back on Earth. They will be the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.

Two subsequent Mars missions are already in the works to retrieve the samples and return them to NASA in the next decade, in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

Image