The NASA Perseverance rover safely landed on Mars after its 292.5 million-mile journey from Earth, the agency confirmed at 3:55 p.m. ET Thursday. The rover landed itself flawlessly, according to the mission’s team.
“Percy,” as the spacecraft is affectionately called at mission control, sent back its first images of the landing site immediately after touchdown, which shows the rover’s shadow on the surface of its landing site of Jezero Crater.
The rover has been on a nearly 300 million-mile journey since it left Earth more than 6 months ago. Perseverance and her teams lived up to the namesake, overcoming the challenges of preparing for the journey’s final stages during a pandemic.
“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 in the 2030s.”
President Joe Biden called Jurczyk and said, “Congratulations, man,” and shared his congratulations to the thousands of people involved in the mission.
Biden also tweeted about the landing: “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.”
Humanity’s love affair with Mars is an enduring one, full of wonder about the possibility of life on this mysterious neighboring planet. This historic mission can search for evidence that could give us the answer.
Perseverance is full of firsts. The search for signs of ancient life on Mars. The first helicopter fly on another planet. The first recordings of sound on the red planet.
The most sophisticated rover NASA has built to date has a packed agenda for the next few years.
The rover will explore Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago, and search for microfossils in the rocks and soil there. Follow-up missions will return samples of this site collected by Perseverance to Earth by the 2030s.
Along for the ride with Perseverance is an experiment to fly a helicopter, called Ingenuity, on another planet for the first time.
“Because of today’s exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental — including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”
During a post-landing news conference, Zurbuchen let people in on a moment that he usually spends alone: ripping up the “contingency plan” NASA prepares in case landing isn’t successful.
“”Every time we do a launch or we do a landing, we get two plans. One plan is the one we want to do, and then there’s that second plan,” he said, before happily tearing the plan in two.
Zurbuchen also shared that despite the fact that many of those on Perseverance’s team couldn’t be on site at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory due to Covid social-distancing protocols, it was the first time many of those in mission control had been together in the same room in a long time.
Now that the rover has landed, the mission truly begins.
“There is something special about the first few days, because we have just landed a representative of the planet Earth on a place on Mars that no one has ever been to,” said Mike Watkins, director for JPL.
Mars will be visible next to the moon in the night sky Thursday evening, so be sure to look up and wave to our newest robotic explorer.