The NASA’s Perseverance rover finally touchdown on the Mars surface according to a statement put out by the space agency. The 1-ton mobile science lab was lowered to the surface of an ancient lakebed on Thursday afternoon.
According to the report, the touchdown occurred at 12:55 p.m. PT (Earth time) and the NASA engineer Swati Mohan made the final announcement of the touchdown.
Hoots and hollers rang throughout NASA’s Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, at the moment of touchdown, but this wasn’t like past Mars landings. Jubilant scientists and engineers jumped from chairs, but social distancing requirements prevented them (mostly) from their usual hearty embraces.
That’s what landing a rover on Mars during a global pandemic looks like.
“What a credit to the team,” said Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator. “Everything went pretty much according to plan.”
Before the final touchdown, there were moments of silence and anxiousness but all mixed up with excitement.
“The one thing that’s key to having a successful mission is a safe landing,” said Glen Nagle who is an outreach manager for Australia’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which is part of NASA’s network of dishes communicating with robots across the solar system. “Neither we nor the mission scientists have any real control over any of that.”
NASA dubbed the EDL process or Entry, Descent and Landing “The seven minutes of terror”. The reason for this naming is due to the fact that many things can go wrong as landing on the surface of Mars is a hard thing to do.
The NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover got through the red planet’s atmosphere at about 12,000 miles per hour and then slowed down to complete stop within 420 seconds which is a process the space agency has mastered. A similar case would be with the Curiosity touchdown back in August 2012.
This mission is scheduled to last for one Mars year which will be about 687 Earth days – because Mars is farther away from the sun and takes longer to complete its evolution around the star.
The way the landing occurred might be shared in a matter of days by NASA based on the different components that were also sent along with the Perseverance rover.
The rover is equipped with cameras and microphones which are meant to send images and audio files to Earth. The distance between the neighboring planets will make it longer before before transmission is completed.
“This is a new sensory way to engage with the red planet,” said Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia. “We can close our eyes, imagine ourselves standing on the surface of Mars and listen to the sounds of Martian nature.”
The first images from the rover were beamed back to mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory just moments after touchdown. They were taken by the Left and Right Hazard Avoidance Cameras, two front-facing cameras onboard the rover. They’re a little dusty and only image in one band, but they’re marvelous.
With the touchdown, the main mission will start whereby the the researches about the Jezero crater and signs of microbial life which might have been fossilized will all be checked.
The location is chosen because of its history of the place to have hosted water in ancient periods of the planet and since water is life, the search for fossilized microbial life in this area is the start.
“These are the kinds of conditions where early microbial life kicked off on Earth,” says Brendan Burns, an astrobiologist at the University of New South Wales.
“Percy,” as the rover has affectionately been dubbed, will hopefully discover signs of past life in the crater.
“This mission builds on years of exploration that showed Mars was once far more habitable than it is today, but Perseverance can show whether it was inhabited,” says Alan Duffy, a professor in astrophysics at Swinburne University in Australia.
Ken Farley made a post-touchdown briefing stating that the landing location is “a great place to be” because it’s right on the border of two “geologic units”
Sampling this area, Perseverance should be able to learn a lot more about the geologic history of Jezero.
Here’s where NASA’s Perseverance landed. It’s between the border of two geologic units. “This is a great place to be,” says Ken Farley, a project scientist from Caltech. “It tells you a lot about the geologic history.” pic.twitter.com/qmbkp6DngU
And Perseverance’s goals extend a long, longway into the future, with two key components of the mission ready to set the stage for the next missions across the cosmos.
The first of which is a portable helicopter located on the rover’s belly which is called the Ingenuity. It’s a test drone and could finally become the first historic aircraft to be flown on the planet.
Success in Mars’ thin atmosphere will pave the way for missions to other planets and moons “If Ingenuity proves that we can successfully pilot aircraft on other planets, it will hugely expand the options for exploration in the future,” says Jonti Horner, an astrophysicist at the University of Southern Queensland. Horner points to NASA’s Dragonfly, which is expected to take to the skies of Saturn’s moon Titan in 2034.
Other things the Perseverance rover is expected to do is take soil samples which it can cache and leave on the surface for a future mission to the planet to collect and bring back to earth.
This sample return would be the first of its kind from the red planet. “That’s like the coolest thing ever,” says Bonnie Teece, a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. “There’s still things we can’t do from far away, and questions we can only answer with samples from Mars here on Earth.” A Russia-led sample return mission was attempted in 2011, but the spacecraft never made it to orbit.
The trip to Mars took place back in July 30th 2020 in Florida aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V. The trip took a whooping 7 months from Earth to Mars but was shielded from the harsh cosmotic environment of space.
The success of this mission will further pave the way for future human-mission to the red planet and finally colonizing it as private companies like Blue origin and Space X are already pouring billions to ensure the success of such mission sooner.