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Nasa's Perseverance rover safely lands on Mars in search of life

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Nasa’s science rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another world, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday and landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, its first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

 

Mission managers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as radio signals confirmed that the six-wheeled rover had survived its perilous descent and arrived within its target zone inside Jezero crater, site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed.

The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293m miles (472m km) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000mph (19,000km/h) to begin its approach to touchdown on the planet’s surface.

The spacecraft’s self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of maneuvers that Nasa dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.


A video still made available from Nasa TV shows the Perseverance Mars rover telemetry as it approaches the Jezero crater.
A video still made available from Nasa TV shows the Perseverance Mars rover telemetry as it approaches the Jezero crater. Photograph: NASA/EPA

“It really is the beginning of a new era,” Nasa’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, said earlier in the day during Nasa’s webcast of the event.

The landing represented the riskiest part of two-year, $2.7bn endeavor whose primary aim is to search for possible fossilized signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars about 3bn years ago, when the fourth planet from the sun was warmer, wetter and potentially hospitable to life.

Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth – the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.

Two subsequent Mars missions are planned to retrieve the samples and return them to Nasa in the next decade.

Nasa scientists have described Perseverance as the most ambitious of nearly 20 US missions to Mars dating back to the Mariner spacecraft’s 1965 fly-by.

Larger and packed with more instruments than the four Mars rovers preceding it, Perseverance is set to build on previous findings that liquid water once flowed on the Martian surface and that carbon and other minerals altered by water and considered precursors to the evolution of life were present.