US space entity NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has successfully landed its largest and most sophisticated science rover on Mars.
The spacecraft, Perseverance, touched down in an ancient river delta that may contain signs of whether the planet ever supported microbial life. Perseverance traveled nearly 470 million kilometers since being launched on July 30 last year from Florida, US.
“When we put our arms together and our hands together and our brains together, we can succeed,” said Rob Manning, chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Mars landings are among the toughest in space exploration and Perseverance’s was the trickiest NASA has ever attempted as the surface is filled with boulders, sand dunes and cliffs as high as 90 meters.
Perseverance landed inside a spherical zone that NASA had selected within the crater, which is about a mile southeast of the agency’s specific target, said Al Chen, head of the rover’s entry, descent and landing team. Mr. Chen added that its current location is flat and the rover is tilted only 1.2 degrees, sitting near a sand dune.
The $2.7 billion rover also carries a drone helicopter known as Ingenuity with 4-foot rotors, which will be the first craft to attempt to fly on another planet. The successful landing means the aircraft could fly as soon as next month, depending on how scientists assess different locations for a flight.
Attempts to land on Mars
This is the fifth time since 1997 that NASA has attempted a landing on the Martian surface, a challenging task of physics and engineering with more than half of previous efforts failing in 50 years of attempts. The former Soviet Union is the only other country that has successfully placed a spacecraft on Mars.
“This is one of the most difficult maneuvers we make in the space business,” said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The mission was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic both before the launch and during the seven-month flight as safety protocols disrupted NASA’s normal work groups and other routines.
Task for Perseverance
One key task for Perseverance will be collecting rock and other geologic materials for a future NASA collection mission and return those materials to Earth for study. In October, a NASA probe collected samples from an asteroid, Bennu, that is more than 200 million miles from Earth for a return flight.
More images and video from the descent is expected to be released soon. “We think we have captured some pretty spectacular video,” Mr. Wallace said.