Was there life on Mars? NASA's rover lands safely to find out
Nasa has confirmed that Perseverance, its $2.4 billion six-wheeled rover has landed successfully on the surface of Mars within its target zone, in the vast Jezero Crater, to begin its mission to find traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. Applause broke out at Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory near Los Angeles, as radio signals confirmed to mission control managers that the rover had survived the descent to its landing zone on the bed of an ancient lake on the Martian surface.
The seven month journey from Earth, saw the robotic vehicle cover 292 million miles until reaching the Martian atmosphere at 12,000mph to begin its descent onto the planet's surface. The self-guided descent, a complex series of manoeuvers, dubbed by Nasa "the seven minutes of terror", is a reference to the first ever moon landing by Apollo 11 in 1969, when the mission control room had "A bunch of guys about to turn blue", holding their breath, as they waited to receive confirmation that "The Eagle has landed".
Flight controller Swati Mohan announced "Touchdown confirmed! Perserevance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life". There was obviously relief in the mission control room, but no one could see the smiles, as everyone was wearing masks. The second round of applause came when the first images arrived minutes after touchdown showing the flat, rocky surface of the crater. In the coming weeks, a tiny 1.8kg helicopter, named Ingenuity, will be launched from the rover and it will be the first powered flight on another planet, allowing for aerial photography of the Martian surface.
Well, we now have to wait to find out what the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent on a space mission, can find out about the past "Life on Mars".
The rover will collect and leave rock samples at certain locations on the Jezero Crater, that will then be picked up by future Mars missions, to be analysed back on earth to determine whether there are any traces of ancient microbial life. Therefore, as Nasa states, this is just the first step in the hunt for ancient life on the Red Planet, as they will now have to send further missions back to Mars to retrieve these samples at the specific drop-off locations and fly them back to earth. So it's going to be a while yet, before we know whether Mars was ever inhabited by anything living.