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Mars Perseverance rover lands safely on Red Planet

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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. (Source: 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. (Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Perseverance – the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world – touched down on Mars on Thursday, after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometres.

Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55pm EST (12:55 pm PST).

In a statement, NASA says packed with groundbreaking technology, the Mars 2020 mission launched 30 July 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

It says 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,” says 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.”

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’s Jezero Crater, says NASA.

It notes that while the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to characterise 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, says NASA, 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 Red Planet.

“Because of today’s exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA.

“Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental – including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”

Some 45km wide, the Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator, NASA says.

It adds that scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago, the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.

The power system that provides electricity and heat for Perseverance through its exploration of Jezero Crater is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, the space agency notes.

The US Department of Energy provided it to NASA through an ongoing partnership to develop power systems for civil space applications.

Equipped with seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars, and its complex sample caching system – the first of its kind sent into space – Perseverance will scour the Jezero region for fossilised remains of ancient microscopic Martian life, taking samples along the way.

“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” says Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

“While we’ll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harboured life.”

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