After a 203-day journey across 293 million miles, the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars Thursday.
Just before 4 p.m. EST, confirmation of the successful touchdown of the 2,263-pound rover was announced in mission control at CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
The Mars 2020 mission launched the car-sized rover on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida — and is entirely made up of groundbreaking technology — but what will it be doing on Mars?
The Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth, NASA said.
Perseverance is searching for signs of ancient life, and NASA said the rover landed in a place with a high potential for finding signs of past life.
NASA chose the Jezero Crater as the ideal spot for the rover to land after conducting a five-year study. Scientists suspect that 3.5 billion years ago, the crater was flooded with water and home to a flourishing river delta and could still contain signs of life.
The rover is also collecting important data about Mars’ geology and climate.
NASA said Perseverance carries instruments and technology that will help pave the way for human missions to the moon and Mars.
NASA’s Jet Propulsions Lab Director Michael Watkins said landing on Mars is always a difficult task and that Thursday’s victory will help pave the path for future crewed missions.
“While Perseverance advances that success, this rover is also blazing its own path and daring new challenges in the surface mission,” Watkins said. “We built the rover not just to land but to find and collect the best scientific samples for return to Earth, and its incredibly complex sampling system and autonomy not only enable that mission, they set the stage for future robotic and crewed missions.”
A primary objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology research, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life, NASA said.
The rover joins NASA’s Curiosity rover, which was sent to the Red Planet over eight years ago.
The mission will last at least one Mars year, or about 687 earth days — NASA will provide a post-landing news briefing Thursday afternoon.