Touch Down! Mars Rover Perseverance Lands for Historic Mission to Collect Signs of Ancient Life

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has successfully touched down — and, for the first time ever, humans were able to witness a landing on the Red Planet.

On Thursday, the unmanned rover — which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, inside the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket — landed at 3:55 p.m. ET on the Jezero Crater, an area scientists previously said they believe could have been a "possible oasis in [the planet's] distant past."

The landing marked an end to what NASA calls its "seven minutes of terror" — many things had to go right as the rover descended to the surface by using NASA's intricate sky crane system.

The milestone — which was made possible by a decade of work by hundreds of experts — is the first time video captured a spacecraft landing on Mars, thanks to cameras and mics on the rover. The imagery is expected to be available on Friday, CNN's Brooke Baldwin said on live TV.

Another feat: helicopter Ingenuity, which aims to autonomously explore Mars by air, is aboard. The aircraft is the first of its kind to fly on another planet.

Over its mission time of one Mars year (which translates to about 687 Earth days), the Perseverance — NASA's ninth mission to land on Mars — will collect rock and soil samples in the hopes of finding evidence of ancient life on Earth's closest neighboring planet.

"To quote Carl Sagan," Gentry Lee, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement, "'If we see a hedgehog staring in the camera, we would know there's current and certainly ancient life on Mars, but based on our past experiences, such an event is extremely unlikely. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the discovery that life existed elsewhere in the universe would certainly be extraordinary.'"

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Of the Jezero Crater, scientists added in a press release, "Between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediments packed with carbonite minerals and clay."

"The Perseverance science team believes this ancient river delta could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life," the June release continued.

The goals for the Mars endeavor are to also explore and analyze the geology of the planet's environment to "assess ancient habitability." Another desired outcome is to "demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration" to the planet.

"Over the past two decades, missions flown by NASA's Mars Exploration Program have shown us that Mars was once very different from the cold, dry planet it is today," according to the June press release. "Evidence discovered by landed and orbital missions point to wet conditions billions of years ago. These environments lasted long enough to potentially support the development of microbial life."

The honor of naming the rover went to Alexander Mather, a seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, who submitted his pick through NASA's "Name the Rover" essay contest.

The 13-year-old's suggestion for the rover's title "captured the spirit of exploration," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said at a presentation at the school in March.

"Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it's going to make amazing discoveries," Zurbuchen said at the time. "It's already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today — processing for launch.

He added, "Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they're going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can't wait to see that nameplate on Mars."

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