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Perseverance pays off: NASA successfully lands Mars rover on red planet

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Posted at 3:24 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 16:11:45-05

NASA successfully landed its rover, Perseverance, on Mars Thursday afternoon.

Just minutes after touching down at about 3:55 p.m. EST, the rover captured its first photo from the red planet.

The landing concluded the rover’s 293-million-mile journey from Earth to Mars. The spacecraft was launched on July 30, 2020.

WATCH THE LANDING BELOW:

According to NASA, the rover’s landing was the most challenging touchdown on Mars that’s been attempted by the agency.

Right before the landing, NASA engineers were on pins and needles as the rover made its way from the top of the atmosphere to the surface.

The craft entered the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 mph, but a series of parachutes slowed the craft to 2 mph. Then, during what is known as the sky crane maneuver, the descent stage lowered the rover on three cables to land softly on six wheels, NASA said.

The rover landed on Jerezo Crater, which was targeted due to a high likelihood of past life. It is believed that Jerezo Crater contained rivers of liquid water in Mars’ ancient past. Perseverance will be tasked with examining rocks that are up to 3.6 billion years old.

“The science team identified Jezero Crater as basically an ancient lakebed,” said Matt Smith, a spacecraft systems engineer and researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And one of the most promising places to look for evidence of ancient microbial life and to collect samples for future return to Earth. The problem is it’s a much more hazardous place to land.”

Landing in the crater posed additional challenges for scientists.

“Having this new technology really allows Perseverance to land in much more challenging terrain than Curiosity or any previous Mars mission could,” Mohan said. “Amongst the rocks and the craters and the cliffs - these things are hazardous to the rover, but these are the things that are interesting to the scientists.”