NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars this Thursday after a seven-minute long plunge through the atmosphere which left scientists at the edge of their seat. Racing through space at more than 12,000 miles-per-hour, the rover is now safely on the surface of the red planet, and will remain there to look for possible evidence of past microbial life within the remains of an old lake.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life!”
Swati Mohan, a guidance, navigation and control officer monitoring telemetry at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was one of the many flight engineers who burst into cheers and applause as the rover landed. He claims the moments leading up to its landing were filled with anxiety, referring to the landing process as “seven minutes of terror.”
The rover itself weighs 2,260 pounds and has now landed on an ancient lakebed located within the Jezero Crater on Mars. The rover had to navigate through dangerous cliffs, large boulders, and slippery sand dunes to find its location. Jennifer Trosper is the deputy project manager to the Perseverance rover, who claims that the $2.4 billion rover exceeded all expectations with Thursday’s landing.
“I almost feel like I’m in a dream. Our job is to think of all the bad things that can happen and try to avoid those, and when all good things happen, you feel like you’re dreaming.”
President Joe Biden tweeted his congratulations to NASA as well: “Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance’s historic landing possible. Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.”
The rover landed in Mars’s atmosphere at 3:48 p.m. EST. The planet was around 2,700 degrees upon landing, and as it slowed down to around 1,000 m.p.h. it deployed a parachute 70 feet wide to help it land safely and slowly. Less than a minute from touchdown when the rover was about 2 miles off the ground, it released its parachute to complete its descent at 200 m.p.h., by the time it reached the ground it was traveling at a speed of around 2 m.p.h.
When the rover landed it was “tweeted” out “Hello, world. My first look at my forever home,” along with a photo of the surface of the red planet. When the image first appeared in front of NASA scientists the entire room erupted in loud cheers and sounds of celebration.
Perseverance was initially launched seven months ago from Cape Canaveral. The journey itself was about 293 million miles, and when it got closest to the 127 million mile gulf between Earth and Mars it had approximately 11 minutes to land. This is NASA’s fifth Mars rover and the first designed specifically for looking for signs of past life.
The Jezero Crater was specifically targeted for this mission because it once held a 28-mile-wide body of water that was approximately the size of Lake Tahoe. THe lake was fed by a river that cut through the rim of the crater.
“During the first month, we also plan to deploy and test a small 4.5-pound, $80 million helicopter named Ingenuity that will attempt the first powered flight in the thin air of Mars, a ‘Wright brothers’ moment’ on another world,” according to Trosper.
NASA and the European Space Agency are planning on sending another rover to the crater later this decade to assist with collecting samples and load them into a small rocket to be brought back to Earth for observation.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.