Miami, Feb 18 (efe-epa).- The Perseverance space probe has landed safely on Mars after successfully passing through the expected “seven minutes of terror” during which it temporarily went out of radio contact with Earth upon entering the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet and descending to the surface, parachuting onto the rocky terrain inside a crater called Jezero, NASA confirmed Thursday.
The rover touched down on Martian soil at 20:56 GMT, according to the US space agency, making it the fifth such vehicle to be positioned to explore Earth’s neighboring planet, with the aim of this mission being to look for signs of past life there.
Scientists think that the Jezero crater, which is 45 kilometers (28 miles) wide, was a giant lake billions of years ago, and if water was there in the past, there might also have been life.
Five minutes after landing on Mars, Perseverance was ready to begin exploring its surroundings and transmitted the first image of the surface that was then posted onto the robot’s official Twitter account with the message: “Hello, world. My first look at my forever home.”
The six-wheeled vehicle – nicknamed “Percy” and which measures about three meters (10 feet) long, weighing 1,025 kilograms (about 2,255 pounds) – will spend the next two years looking for signs of past microbiotic life on Mars and will collect selected samples of rocks and sediments to be transported back to Earth by another unmanned Mars mission in the late 2020s.
The robot descended to the Martian surface after reducing its speed from 20,000 km per hour (12,400 mph) with the aid of an aerial device that allowed it to slow down gradually, an operation that NASA scientists had said was one of the most dangerous parts of the mission.
“What … an amazing team to work through all the adversity and all the challenges that go with landing a rover on Mars, plus the challenges of Covid. Just an amazing accomplishment,” NASA’s interim administrator, Steve Jurczyk, said shortly after the probe landed.
Perseverance carries two microphones, which for the first time will record the sound of the wind on Mars, and a four-footed drone helicopter weighing less than 2 kg (4.4 lb.) and called Ingenuity Mars that will try to make the first controlled, motorized flight in the Martian atmosphere, which is many times thinner than the air on Earth.
The rover will catalog the geology and the climate of Mars, and – to do that – it is carrying drills that will bore into rocks to extract about 30 cylindrical or tube-like rock cores looking kind of like cigarettes, some of which scientists intend to bring back to Earth on the joint robotic NASA-European Space Agency mission scheduled to be sent to Mars later this decade.
In addition, Perseverance will pave the way for future human exploration beyond the Moon.