A NASA rover streaked through the orange Martian sky and landed on the red planet Thursday, after travelling through space for over six months.
The rover, named Perseverance, managed to land safely on Mars, becoming the ninth spacecraft to successfully make it to the neighbouring planet.
Ground controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, cheered and clapped, exchanging fist bumps and high fives after receiving confirmation that the six-wheeled Perseverance had touched down on the red planet.
Touchdown confirmed. The #CountdownToMars is complete, but the mission is just beginning. pic.twitter.com/UvOyXQhhN9
— NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
It took a tension-filled 11 1/2 minutes for the signal to reach Earth before flight controller Swati Mohan declared, “Touchdown confirmed!”
Experts are saying Thursday’s rover landing was the riskiest step yet in an epic quest to bring back rocks that could answer whether life ever existed on Mars.
Perseverance, launched last June, landed on the Jezero Crater just north of the Mars equator, and will drill into the surface in order to take between 20 and 35 core samples up to 10 centimetres long.
The rover will then stash those samples on the surface.
As early as 2026, another rover is to retrace Perseverance’s journey and retrieve the samples for eventual return to Earth, perhaps by 2031.
According to NASA researchers, Perseverance will be able to send much information back on its own.
Hello, world. My first look at my forever home. #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/dkM9jE9I6X
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 18, 2021
It has 23 cameras to record everything about the landscape and an on-board laser that can vaporize rocks and analyze their makeup.
Perseverance will also be able to detect organic matter in the rocks and will carry ground-penetrating radar. Scientists say they will be looking for evidence recorded in the rocks of environments that could have been habitable.
Mars is thought to have had water at some time in the distant past, about 3.5-billion years ago, that all vanished.
Jezero was chosen because it’s thought to be an ancient lake bed. If there was life on Mars, lake sediments or a long-ago shoreline could be a good place to look for signs.
With files from the Canadian Press