NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars.
After more than six months of speeding toward the Red Planet at 12,000 miles per hour, the rover has touched down safely on Mars. The rover landed at approximately 3:56 p.m. EST/12:56 p.m. PST today on Mars’ Jezero Crater.
Perseverance joins four other rovers on Mars: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.
Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and for over a year — since the end of Spirit and Opportunity’s mission in 2019 — it has been the only rover on the planet with an active mission. It will continue its mission of determining if Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support small life forms known as microbes. It will now be joined by Perseverance whose mission is to “address high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars,” according to NASA.
Perseverance will not only seek signs of habitable conditions for life on Mars, but it will search for signs of “past microbial life” as well. It is equipped with a special drill that can collect core samples of “the most promising rocks and soils” and set them aside in a cache on Mars for a potential return to Earth in a future mission. The rover’s mission also gives NASA scientists opportunities to gather information about future human expeditions to Mars.
“These [opportunities] include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources such as subsurface water, improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars,” NASA’s Perseverance mission page reads.
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Associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Thomas Zurbuchen, said the Perseverance mission shared the scope of the Perseverance’s mission on Mars.
“Perseverance is NASA’s most ambitious Mars rover mission yet, focused scientifically on finding out whether there was ever any life on Mars in the past,” Zurbuchen said. “To answer this question, the landing team will have its hands full getting us to the Jezero Crater — the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing.”
The landing team was fortunately successful and Perseverance is now live and getting to work on the Red Planet. Here’s an approximate timeline of how Perseverance’s landing went, according to NASA.
- Cruise Stage Separation: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which was attached to Perseverance and responsible for flying the rover through space, detached itself at approximately 3:38 p.m. EST.
- Atmospheric Entry: Perseverance hit the top of Mars’ atmosphere at approximately 3:48 p.m. EST at 12,100 miles per hour/19,500 kilometers per hour.
- Peak Heating: The bottom of Perseverance hit its peak temperature of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit/1,300 degrees Celsius, at approximately 3:49 p.m. EST as a result of the friction it endured flying through the atmosphere.
- Parachute Deployment: Perseverance deployed its parachute at 3:53 p.m. EST.
- Heat. Shield Separation: The protective heat shield on the bottom of Perseverance detached roughly 20 seconds after its parachute was deployed. This detachment was done to allow the rover to begin using its radar to determine how far away it is from the surface of Mars.
- Back Shell Separation: The back shell of the entry capsule that is attached to Perseverance’s parachute separated from the rover at approximately 3:54 p.m. EST. At this point, the rover began to use rockets to slow down its speed and fly to the landing site.
- Touchdown: Perseverance successfully landed on Mars at approximately 3:56 p.m. at a speed of about 1.7 miles per hour/2.7 kilometers per hour.
Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020, and landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. It’s expected to stay on the planet for at least one Mars Year, which is the equivalent of 687 Earth days. The first thing the rover did was send a picture back to NASA on Earth. Additional photos from a higher-quality camera will be sent at a later time.
Here’s the first picture it sent:
If you were one of the 10.9 million people who submitted your name to Nasa back in March of last year, your name is aboard Perseverance and roving around Mars right now. For more Mars, read about how researchers are trying to turn the Red Planet green and then check out this story about new ideas researchers have about how Mars might have formed.
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and guide maker for IGN. His name is aboard Perseverance and he is so happy today because space is the best. You can follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.