After a nerve-wracking seven-minute descent, NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars on Thursday afternoon, as part of one of the agency’s most ambitious deep-space missions to search for signs of ancient life on the red planet.
“What an amazing day,” a joyful Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said shortly after the landing was confirmed.
“What an amazing team, the work through all the adversity and all the challenges that go with landing a rover on Mars, plus the challenges of COVID … just an amazing accomplishment,” he added.
Within minutes of landing, the rover, nicknamed “Percy,” sent its first image back to Earth.
The rover’s voyage will also help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars.
Perseverance launched from the Florida coast last July, and after a seven-month journey through the cosmos, successfully to touched down on Mars’ Jezero Crater at 3:55 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Touching down at ‘the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing’
Thursday’s landing was the culmination of over a decade of work, but there was no guarantee the landing would go smoothly — only about 50% of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded, according to NASA.
Zurbuchen said in a statement that Peseverance is “focused scientifically on finding out whether there was ever any life on Mars in the past.”
“To answer this question, the landing team will have its hands full getting us to Jezero Crater — the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing,” he added.
The Jezero Crater is the site where an ancient river flowed into a lake on Mars, scientists believe, and where signs of ancient life may have been best preserved.
“The Perseverance team is putting the final touches on the complex choreography required to land in Jezero Crater,” Jennifer Trosper, the deputy project manager for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “No Mars landing is guaranteed, but we have been preparing a decade to put this rover’s wheels down on the surface of Mars and get to work.”
“Mars is hard and we never take success for granted,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said during a Tuesday news conference.
Zurbuchen added that they will land on Mars “with cameras on, so the entire world is inspired with us as we do new and tough things and demonstrate these new technologies.”
“Because whether it’s on the red planet or here at home on our blue marble, science can bring us together and create solutions to challenges that seem impossible at first,” Zurbuchen said.