Saturday, February 27, 2021
Science

NASA’s Perseverance rover has landed safely on the surface of Mars

NASA's Perseverance rover has landed safely on the surface of Mars
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NASA’s newest rover has made it to the surface of Mars. After a journey of nearly seven months, the Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet on 18 February.

The success of the landing was by no means a foregone conclusion – of all the missions ever sent to the Mars’s surface, only about 40 per cent have landed safely. Perseverance is the largest rover ever sent to Mars, which made the landing even more difficult. Its arrival at Jezero crater was heralded by cheers and audible relief in NASA’s mission control room in California.

The spacecraft used a heat shield and then a parachute to slow down from about 20,000 kilometres per hour to less than 4 kilometres per hour, and was then lowered carefully to the surface by a sky crane similar to the one that was used in the Curiosity rover landing in 2012.

The main difference from the Curiosity landing was a new navigation system that took images of the landing area and compared them to maps to pick out a safe spot to touch down. “This is finally like landing with your eyes open,” said Perseverance team member Swati Mohan during the online NASA livestream of the landing.

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The first image sent back from the Perseverance rover after it landed on Mars

NASA

Next, engineers will run health checks on the rover and its instruments before beginning to explore the planet’s surface. The rover has two main goals: to pick up and stash samples of Mars dust and rocks that will be returned to Earth by a planned 2026 mission, and to search for signs of ancient life.

“Based on everything we know about Mars in the past, it absolutely should have been capable of supporting ancient life,” said Katie Stack Morgan, also a Perseverance team member, during the livestream. “Studying the possible emergence of life on ancient Mars can also help us better understand the conditions that led to life on our own planet.” The search for ancient life on Mars starts now.

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