A NASA rover smeared through the orange Martian sky and landed on the Mars Thursday, taking the most dangerous move yet in an epic search to bring back rocks that could clarify if life ever flourished on Mars.
In Pasadena, California, Ground controllers at the Space Agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory jumped to their feet, threw their hands up in the air and applauded in both victory and joy upon getting approval that the six-wheel Perseverance had touched the red planet.
“Now the exciting science begins,” said NASA Science Mission Chief Thomas Zurbuchen at a press conference, where he theatrically tore up the contingency plan in the event of a disaster and tossed the paper over his shoulders.
This landing is the 3rd visit to Mars within only over a week. 2 spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China drifted to orbit across Mars on successive days last week. All 3 missions took off in July to take benefits of the closer collaboration of Earth and Mars, covering about 300 million miles in approximately seven months.
Perseverance, the largest, most developed rover ever sent out by NASA, since the 1970s, this has been the ninth spacecraft to land successfully on Mars, each from the United States.
The automobile size, plutonium-powered vehicle landed at Jezero Crater, entering NASA’s smallest and toughest target: a 5-by-4-mile strip on an ancient river delta filled with pits, cliffs and rocks. Scientists assume that if life had ever existed on Mars, it would have occurred 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, when water was still flowing on the planet.
During the next two years, Percy, dubbed, will use its 7-foot (2-metre) arm to delve deeper and gather rock samples bearing potential traces of past microscopic life. 3 to 4 dozen samples of chalk-size would be enclosed in tubes and set aside to be collected by another rover and taken home by another rocket ship.
“Are we alone in this kind of vast, interstellar desert, floating through space, or is life much more prevalent? Is it only appearing whenever and wherever the conditions are ripe?” The Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford said. “We’re just on the verge of being able to actually address these big questions.”
China’s spacecraft has a tiny rover that will also search proof of existence if it manage to safely out of orbit in May or June. Two older NASA landers are already operating on Mars: 2012′s Curiosity rover and 2018′s InSight.
Perseverance was on its own throughout its descent, a maneuver sometimes defined by NASA as “seven minutes of terror.”
Flight controllers watched desperately as the preprogrammed spacecraft entered the thin Martian atmosphere at 12,100 mph (19,500 km/h) or 16 times the speed of sound, slowing down as it dropped. It lowered its 70-foot (21-metre) parachute and then used a rocket-driven platform known as the sky crane to reduce the final 60 or so feet (18 metres) rover to the earth.
It required 11 1/2 minutes for the signal to verify the touchdown to reach Earth, to set off back-slapping and fist-bumping between flight controllers wearing masks against the Covid 19.
“Take that, Jezero!” shouted the controller.
Perseverance sent back two black & white, grainy pictures of Mars
Perseverance immediately reported two grainy, black-and-white images of Mars’ pockmarked, pimply-looking land, the reflection of the rover visible in the frame of a single shot.
NASA said the landing was smooth and the rover went down in a “parking lot”—a fairly flat position in the middle of dangerous rocks. Hours after the touchdown, Matt Wallace, NASA Deputy Project Manager, announced that the spacecraft was in good condition.
Mars has proven a dangerous place for the spacefaring nations of the world, including the United States. In less than 3 months in 1999, a U.S. spacecraft was lost when it reached orbit because the engineers had confused metric and English units, and the U.S. lander collapsed on the ground because its engines had been cut out prematurely.
President Joe Biden tweeted his gratitude on the touchdown, saying: “Today has proven yet again that, with the power of science and American innovation, nothing is outside the realm of possibility.”
NASA is collaborating with the European Space Agency to get the rocks home. Perseverance’s mission alone costs almost $3 billion.
The only chance to verify – or rule out -the signs of past existence is to analyse samples in the best laboratories in the world. Instruments small enough to be sent to Mars will not have the requisite precision.
Former astronaut and once-time NASA science chief John Grunsfeld posted that Perseverance’s touchdown was “exactly the good news and inspiration we need right now.”
“Reminds all of us that we are going to persevere with COVID and political instability and that the best is yet to come,” he said.