By Mike Wall, Space.com
YOU can exhale now: NASA’s Perseverance rover has landed safely on Mars.
The car-sized Perseverance, the most advanced robot ever sent to the Red Planet, aced its “seven minutes of terror” touchdown this afternoon (Feb. 18), alighting gently on an ancient lakebed inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater shortly before 4 p.m. EST (4 a.m. in Thailand).
After a series of instrument and hardware checkouts, Perseverance will start doing what it crossed interplanetary space to do: hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, collect and cache rock samples for future return to Earth and demonstrate some shiny new exploration technologies, among other things.
“I don’t think we’ve had a mission that is going to contribute so much to both science and technology,” NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk told Space.com earlier this week . “It’s going to be truly amazing.”
Persevering through a pandemic
Perseverance, the heart of NASA’s $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, lifted off from Florida’s Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020.
That was about halfway through Perseverance’s month-long launch window, which closed in mid-August. Such windows come along just once every 26 months for Mars missions, so NASA was determined to get the rover off the ground on time — a challenging task made even tougher by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced a rethink of assembly and testing protocols and made it harder for the team to travel.
“In March and early April, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to make it,” Jurczyk said. (Back then, the NASA chief was Jim Bridenstine, and Jurczyk led the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.)
“But we were able to work through the planning and get there,” he added. “It’s a real credit to the dedication and hard work of the team.”
The rover’s name is a testament to the spirit that got the mission off the ground and on its way to Mars, agency officials have said.
“Perseverance is a strong word,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in March 2020 during the rover’s naming ceremony. “It’s about making progress despite obstacles.”
Like NASA’s other Mars rovers, Perseverance got its name via a nationwide student competition. The winning moniker was submitted by Alex Mather, at the time a seventh grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia.
Top: Perseverance’s first image from the surface of Mars, acquired just minutes after landing. Image via NASA TV and published by Earthsky.org
Home Page: An artist’s concept of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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