The newest Martian, a robot named Perseverance, is alive and well after his first day and night on the red planet, NASA scientists and engineers said Friday. Members of the triumphant team that manages the spaceship were delighted as they shared images captured by the cameras during landing and after the rover reached the surface.
“As scientists, we’re used to the engineers showing us animations of the rover, and that’s what I thought at first,” said Katie Stack Morgan, assistant project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the Images. “And then I took it twice and said this is the actual rover.”
The image shared by NASA showed the rover in the final phase of its landing when a part of the spacecraft known as a sky crane, sometimes compared to a jetpack, gently lowered the vehicle to the surface.
“We are overwhelmed with excitement and overjoyed to have successfully landed another rover on the surface of Mars,” said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer of the rover mission.
The system was also used during the Curiosity Rover’s landing in 2012 and contributed to the safe arrival of both robot researchers on the difficult terrain of the fourth planet in front of the sun. After the rover landed, the sky crane flew to a safe location where landing would not harm the mission.
Another photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that has been exploring Mars from space since 2006, showed the rover hanging on its parachute as it soared over the Martian terrain. The rover hangs over Jezero Crater, the location NASA selected for their final Mars landing.
The rover landed in a small rock-strewn plaza in the center of Jezero crater, which was thought to be the dry basin of a lake that existed 3.8 billion years ago. It’s near a rougher area of broken terrain that scientists named Canyon de Chelly after the Navajo Arizona site of the same name. The rover is approximately 1.25 miles from a river delta. Scientists believe it is a prime place to look for chemical signatures of ancient microbial life.
One of the mission’s first scientific tasks will be to examine the rocks in this crater and find out whether they are volcanic basalt or sedimentary rocks. If the rocks are sedimentary, they could have been habitable long ago; If they are volcanic, geologists can calculate their age.