The largest, most advanced rover the United State’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has sent to another world touched down on Mars, after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometers. Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on Thursday at 3:55 pm EST (Friday 4:35 am PKT).
The Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with the sole aim of collecting samples from Mars and returning them to Earth. One of the primary objectives of this mission is astrobiology research, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. NASA hopes that this latest effort at analysing the past climate and geology of Mars will pave the way for further human exploration.
“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.”
The rover, which is about the same size as a small car and weighs just over a thousand kilograms, will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. Seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars, and its incredibly complex sample caching system makes the Perseverance the most advanced rover to be ever sent into space.
“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” said 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 harbored life.”
This is not NASA’s first mission to Mars, nor is it the first of its kind. The obsession with collecting data from the Red Planet started during the Cold War era when the Soviet Union launched its Mars 3 space prove in 1971. Following this, NASA launched its Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions. Since then, NASA has launched several missions to probe and investigate our neighboring planet including the Spirit rover, the Opportunity rover, the Phoenix lander, and the Curiosity rover. Other countries have also participated in the race for Mars. Japan, China, and India have all attempted missions while the European Space Agency helped send the British Beagle2 lander there in 2003
Of late, the intrigue surrounding Mars has grown with Elon Musk’s Space X program looking to put humans on the planet by 2024. The Perseverance mission is likely to aid attempts of making manned flights to Mars possible if and when its data is shared.
“Perseverance is more than a rover, and more than this amazing collection of men and women that built it and got us here,” said John McNamee, project manager of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. “It is even more than the 10.9 million people who signed up to be part of our mission. This mission is about what humans can achieve when they persevere. We made it this far. Now, watch us go.”