Nasa’s Perseverance rover lands safely on Mars and sends back pictures
By Nina Massey
Nasa’s Mars Perseverance rover safely landed on the red planet and sent back images, marking an “amazing accomplishment”, the space agency has announced.
Its mission is to search for signs of ancient life, and explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse environments on Mars.
After the rover, which blasted off from Earth last July, entered the Martian atmosphere there were “seven minutes of terror” as it made its way to the surface.
It took more than 11 minutes for news of the safe landing to reach Earth, arriving at just before 9pm (GMT).
Steve Jurczyk, Nasa’s acting administrator, said: “It’s amazing to have Perseverance join Curiosity on Mars and what a credit to the team.
“Just what an amazing team to work through all the adversity and all the challenges that go with landing a rover on Mars, plus the challenges of Covid.
“And just an amazing accomplishment.”
The arrival of this image, and second taken from behind the rover, showing a flat, rocky surface, was met with a second round of cheers as mission control celebrated the achievement.
Images from Nasa showed the rover had landed in tiny safe space, surrounded by red areas that would have been very difficult to land in.
Showing slides highlighting areas of various colours, Nasa’s Entry, Descent and Landing lead official Allen Chen, said: “I was just worried about what would kill us on landing.
“Red is generally bad, and you can see that the system managed to find a nice blue spot in the midst of all that red – all that death that’s out there for us.
“So we found a parking lot.”
Nasa suggested flights of the Ingenuity could begin in the spring, with the first science being carried on in the summer.
The research destination of the rover – a scientific laboratory the size of a car – is Jezero crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing sediments of an ancient river delta.
Scientists know that 3.5 billion years ago, Jezero was the site of a large lake, complete with its own delta.
They believe that while the water may be long gone, somewhere within the crater, or maybe along its 2,000-foot-tall (610 metre) rim, evidence that life once existed there could be waiting.
Any hunt for these signs will include the rover’s cameras, especially Mastcam-Z, which is located on the rover’s mast.
The mission’s science team can task Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument – also on the mast – to fire a laser at a promising target, generating a small plasma cloud that can be analysed to help determine its chemical composition.
Perseverance will gather rock and soil samples using its drill, and will store the sample cores in tubes on the Martian surface ready for a return mission to bring around 30 samples to Earth in the early 2030s.
Selected samples will be collected by drilling down to several centimetres and then sealed in sample tubes and stored on the rover.
When the rover reaches a suitable location, a cache of tubes will be dropped on the surface of Mars to be collected by the Sample Fetch Rover, being developed by Airbus in Stevenage, which will take them to the Nasa Mars Ascent vehicle.
Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which will fly short distances from the rover in the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet.
A successful test of the helicopter could lead to more flying probes to survey the landscape on other planets.
It will also trial technologies to help astronauts make future expeditions to Mars.
These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources such as subsurface water, and improving landing techniques.
They also involve characterising weather and other environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.