Safe Mars landing for NASA’s robotic astrobiologist sent to search for ancient life

NASA’s Perseverance rover lands safely on Mars as it begins its two-year mission to study rock samples and search for signs of ancient life

Members of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover team watch in mission control as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars (Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Members of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover team watch in mission control as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars (Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars Thursday, after almost a seven-month journey traversing 472 million kilometres.

Minutes after scientists and engineers confirmed the rover’s touchdown, the first images of the Red Planet’s surface were beamed back to Earth.

Packed with ground-breaking technology, the Mars 2020 mission launched on 30 July, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.  

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.

“The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet,” he added.

Searching for ancient life

About the size of a car, the 1,026kg robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to characterize the region’s geology and past climate, a fundamental part of its mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life.

To that end, the Mars Sample Return campaign, being planned by NASA and the European Space Agency, will allow scientists on Earth to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Mars.

Some 45km wide, Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.

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