NASA’s $2.2bn Perseverance LANDS on Mars: Rover survives ‘seven minutes of terror’ to embark on 2-year mission to search for extra terrestrial life in crater that was once a lake

In the third of a ‘trilogy’ of the latest missions to explore Mars, first China with Tianwen-1 successfully reaching the Red Planet (with plans to ambitiously deploy a rover to the surface in May/June of this year). Second was Dubai and the United Arab Emirates successfully sending their Hope spacecraft to Mars, being the very first Arab nation to make a stake in the field of planetary science with a successful mission, paving the way for other countries to do the same. Finally, today, it is with tremendous pleasure to announce that the United States and NASA has successfully launched, deployed, and landed another rover (Perseverance) this afternoon (Earth time) on Mars at Jezero Crater.

Many UCLA scientists have a major stake in this mission such as fellow iPLEX member, Dr. David A. Paige, the Deputy Principal Investigator of the RIMFAX instrument. Paige, his research team, and his Graduate Students will lead the charge in new science found on Mars with this instrument, in easily, the heaviest, most scientifically capable, and best technology yet to land on Mars. As interestingly, another UCLA professor and iPLEX member, Dr. Mackenzie Day has led a team of students and researchers interested in studying Jezero Crater and the likelihood of water on Mars, and what this may mean geologically, and biologically for everything to be found at this scientifically fascinating location. The list goes on and on for other researchers in UCLA’s Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Department (EPSS) where we are interested to know more about the origins of life, planetary science, geology, seismology, space physics, and how each of these fields are actually intertwined together.

We hope that much great science will be done in the years to come and look forward to a treasure trove of data and scientific analysis that will come from this rover and mission. Not only is it a testament to the engineering teams at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, making another successful touchdown on Mars, but it is also to inspire others to do the same, and learn more about planetary science.

-Dave Milewski

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover has landed on Mars following a 239 million-mile journey through space
  • It traveled  around 12,000mph and will deploy a parachute to slow down before landing safely on the surface
  • The sky crane performed the same landing maneuver as with Curiosity using long Nylon cords 
  • The crane released Perseverance from its grasp and flew to safety, allowing the rover to start its journey 
  • Perseverance will search for biosignatures in the Jezero crater that is said to be an extinct lake
  • It will collected samples and cache them across Mars for a separate mission in 2023 to retrieve  

NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars following a 239 million-mile journey.The rover survived the ‘seven minutes of terror’ when it endured tumultuous conditions that battered the craft as it entered the Martian atmosphere and approached the surface.

‘NASA works. When we put our arms together and our hands together and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does,’ says chief engineer and landing veteran Rob Manning. 

Perseverance shot like a speeding bullet through the atmosphere going 12,000mph and successfully deployed the sonic parachute which slowed it down to make a soft landing on the surface.

It descended down on the parachute, the backshell separated and the sky crane maneuver carried Perseverance to the ground attached to long Nylon cables.

Perseverance touched down at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake which was home to water 3.5 billion years ago.

The Martian surface is littered with craters but what makes Jezero Crater so special is that it an inflow and outflow channel, which suggests it was filled with water some 3.5 billion years ago. 

Thomas Zurbuchen, of the NASA Science Mission directorate, said: ‘It was an exciting day to think we’re looking to bring samples of Mars back to Earth.’

‘We’re turning our rover into a robotic geologist and astrobiologist, collecting samples that we will be bringing back to Earth, that is what we’re looking forward to.’

Figure Caption: NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars following a 239 million-mile journey through space. Pictured is the first image the rover has taken on the Red Planet (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))
Figure Caption: The descent of the $2.2billion car-sized spacecraft was lived stream as it went through the ‘seven minutes of terror’ when it endured tumultuous conditions that battered the craft as it entered the Martian atmosphere and approached the surface (Image credit: Reuters)

Radio signals between Perseverance and NASA took 11 minutes to be sent due to the time it takes for the signals to travel all the way to Mars and back again. 

As a result, Perseverance’s on-board computers and 19 cameras were entirely responsible for the descent.

Former US Vice President, Mike Pence, congratulated NASA on the achievement, adding that ‘Perseverance will help us continue to unlock the mysteries of space and one day land Americans on the Red Planet’. 

Unlike previous NASA rovers to Mars — Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity — Perseverance is purposely being sent to a more treacherous part of the red planet. 

This is because the Jezero Crater is thought to be an extinct lake and is also close to curious rock formations, all of which are of great scientific interest back on Earth.  

The massive crater is said to have once flowed with water and is littered with carbonates and hydrated silica.

Carbonates similar to those at the crater’s inner rim have been found in fossils on Earth which are billions of years old. Hydrated silica is known for its ability to preserve biosignatures. 

Figure Caption: Perseverance touched down at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake which was home to water 3.5 billion years ago. Pictured is one of the first images the rover sent back after landing on the Martian soil (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))
Figure Caption: During Perseverance’s decent, NASA was unable to make contact with the rover. However, once signal was gain the team erupted in applause (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))

Prior to the landing, NASA officials did say ‘it is not guaranteed that we will be successful.’


To increase the chance of success, Perseverance was the first mission to be fitted with ‘Terrain Relative Navigation’ which will take images of the Martian surface during the descent. The information gathered from this will be used to inform the rover’s decision as to where it will land.   

Figure Caption: The spacecraft carrying the rover separated ten minutes before atmosphere entry and Perseverance will then enter Mars’ atmosphere at around 12,000 miles per hour — quick enough to travel from London to New York in 15 minutes. This rapid speed generated a huge amount of air resistance and friction which warms Perseverance up to an enormous temperature in excess of 2,000°F (Image credit: AP)
Figure Caption: A parachute deployed at around four minutes into the descent, when the rover was still seven miles from the surface. NASA says this is a critical step and involves the biggest parachute ever sent to another planet (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))
Figure Caption: A landing harness carrying Perseverance which is fitted with eight rocket thrusters took control of the descent after the parachute is jettisoned process and slowed the craft down from 190 miles per hour to a mere 1.7 miles per hour while also steering the lander (Image credit: AP)
Figure Caption: The final stage of the landing is where the rocket-powered craft attempted the same maneuver for landing as the Curiosity did in 2012 using the sky crane. Nylon cords lowered Perseverance 25 feet below and after it touched down on the Martian surface, the cords detached and the sky crane will fly away (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))
Figure Caption: NASA has sent a number of orbiters to Mars, which allowed them to find Perseverance’s target – the 28-mile Jezero Crater (pictured). The Jezero Crater is thought to be an extinct lake and is also close to curious rock formations, all of which are of great scientific interest back on Earth (Image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology (Caltech))
Figure Caption: The first act of Perseverance — which has been based on the blueprint of Curiosity and is the seven feet tall, nine feet wide and weighs 2,260 pounds — was e to release its accompanying Ingenuity helicopter (pictured). The copter will fly at an altitude that is similar to 100,000 feet on Earth, allowing it to gather geology data in areas the rover is unable to reach (Image credit: AP)

It completed the final approach to the surface and slowed the craft down from 190 miles per hour to a mere 1.7 miles per hour while also steering the lander.

The craft will then attempt the ‘skycrane’ maneuver which was first developed for Curiosity in 2012.

Nylon cords will hold Perseverance 25 feet below the jetpack and gently place the rover down on the red soil.

At this point, the craft will cut the nylon cords and fly away to ensure it does not damage Perseverance.

Dr Brown says the whole process is fraught with danger.

‘You never know what Mars throws at you for surprises while the lander carries out these complex maneuvers by itself,’ he adds.

NASA established a radio connection with the rover before Perseverance did a series of checks and then starts its experiments and investigations.

Unlike previous NASA rovers to Mars — Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity — Perseverance is purposely being sent to a more treacherous part of the red planet.

This is because the Jezero Crater is thought to be an extinct lake and is also close to curious rock formations, all of which are of great scientific interest back on Earth.

‘NASA works. When we put our arms together and our hands together and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does,’ says chief engineer and landing veteran Rob Manning.  

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, every one of them from the U.S., beginning in the 1970s. 

Deputy project scientist Ken Williford said: ‘Are we alone in this sort of vast cosmic desert, just flying through space, or is life much more common?’

‘Does it just emerge whenever and wherever the conditions are ripe?’

‘We´re really on the verge of being able to potentially answer these enormous questions.’ 

Figure Caption: Radio signals between Perseverance and NASA took 11 minutes and 22 seconds to be sent due to the time it takes for the signals to travel all the way to Mars and back again. As a result, Perseverance’s on-board computers and 19 cameras are entirely responsible for the descent (Image credit: AP)
Figure Caption: This NASA photo from 2019 shows the head of the Mars rover Perseverance’s remote sensing mast which contains the SuperCam instrument in the large circular opening, two Mastcam-Z imagers in gray boxes, and next to those, the rover’s two navigation cameras (Image credit: AP)

The first act of Perseverance — which has been based on the blueprint of Curiosity and is the seven feet tall, nine feet wide and weighs 2,260 pounds —  was to release its accompanying Ingenuity helicopter. 

The copter will fly at an altitude that is similar to 100,000 feet on Earth, allowing it to gather geological data in areas the rover is unable to reach.

This exceptional height is made possible due to the thin atmosphere on Mars, which is just 1/1,000 as thick as Earth’s. Its two levels of blades will rotate in opposite directions at up to 2,400 rpm. 

This will be the first time a terrestrial helicopter has not only flown at such altitudes, but also the first time it will take flight on another planet. 

NASA is comparing this mission ‘to the Wright brothers moment’ and believes Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future.  

Perseverance’s primary goal is to look for ‘biosignatures’ — signs of past or present microbial  life — as well as gathering rock samples which will be picked up by another mission in 2026.

The rover will drill into the dusty surface and gather material into titanium, germ free tubes that will be placed in the vehicle’s belly.

NASA aims to gather at least 20 samples with a variety of material that can be brought back to Earth for further analysis.

The successful landing of the rover was met with applause and loud cheers across eight rooms as the teams were split up in order to be Covid secure.

Steve Jurczyk, Nasa’s acting administrator, said: ‘It’s amazing to have Perseverance join Curiosity on Mars and what a credit to the team.

‘Just 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.

‘And just an amazing accomplishment.’

NASA has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the follow up mission to retrieve the samples, with at least two crafts expected for the project.

‘In 2026, we’re going to launch a mission from Earth to Mars to go pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth,’ NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said previously.

‘For the first time in history, we’re doing a Mars sample return mission.’

Figure Caption: Perseverance’s primary goal is to look for ‘biosignatures’ — signs of past or present microbial life — as well as gathering rock samples which will be picked up by another mission in 2026. However, it is equipped with a host of tools which will perform a variety of tasks

Lori Glaze from NASA’s planetary science division, said scientists have wanted to bring samples of Mars back to Earth fro a ‘very long time’.

‘We have samples of Mars that have come to Earth as meteorites, but we don’t know exactly where they came from on Mars and they had to travel through space which changes the rocks from what they were on Mars.

‘Going to Mars and bringing samples back from Mars which we know we can keep pristine will help us answer questions about the history of Mars and how it evolved’

She added it will also help to answer questions about the geologic history of Mars, understanding how it evolved and answer important questions about whether life existed three and a half billion years ago and whether it has been preserved.

The sample tubes that Perseverance will be placing rock and soil samples into are the ‘cleanest things ever created on Earth’.

This is because they want to check whether those samples contain ancient Martian life and so it had to be created so they wouldn’t be contaminated by Earth DNA.

This is probably the most challenging thing we have ever tried to do and have partners with the European Space Agency who are providing a fetch rover that will pick up samples left by Perseverance and load them into a rocket.

The Mars Ascent vehicle will be the first ever launch from another planet and it will rendezvous with a European spaceship that will return it back to Earth.

British researchers and the UK Space Agency are also involved in this process.

Academics at Imperial and the Natural History Museum will help decide which samples of Martian terrain should be saved and returned by the ESA mission. 

The British Government provided almost half a million pounds towards the Perseverance project. 

The rover itself is estimated to have cost $2.2billion (£1.6billion) to build, according to the Planetary Society.

Its launch atop the Atlas V 541 rocket likely cost a further $243million (£174.5million) and the two-year cost of operations is estimated to run up a bill of a further $300million (215million), taking the total estimated cost of Perseverance to $2.7billion (£1.94billion).

All of Perseverance’s missions on Mars will be orchestrated by its 19 cameras and powered 10.6 pounds of plutonium carried in a custom container roughly the size of a bucket.

The plutonium provides 2,000 watts of thermal power and will last for around 14 years. NASA says.

Other work of Perseverance, which is scheduled to be operational for one Martian year (687 Earth days), involves investigating if materials found on Mars can be utilised to facilitate return missions. 

This task is called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) and is preparing for human exploration of Mars.

One goal of MOXIE is to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere into oxygen. 

If successful, this will lay out the blueprint for how future crewed missions will turn the Martian atmosphere into rocket fuel and breathable air for astronauts.

Once the ESA mission collects and returns the samples of Mars to Earth in 2031, scientists will cut the slabs into thin sheets of rock in order to determine if individual microbial cells are hiding in the samples. 

Perseverance is also fitted with other instruments, including advanced cameras, radar, and a laser. 

The rover will use its high-powered laser, called SuperCam, at the top of its mast to shoot high-energy pulses capable of vaporizing rocks up to 20 feet away. 

The laser beam heats the target to 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to transform the solid rock into plasma that can be imaged by a camera for further analysis. 

Figure Caption: Perseverance is a six-wheeled vehicle which is the same size as a large car and it will be accompanied by an autonomous four pound (1.8kg) helicopter called Ingenuity which will study Martian atmosphere (Image credit: PA)
Figure Caption: Perseverance launched on July 30 from Cape Canaveral Florida aboard a United Launch Alliances Atlas V rocket following probes also sent to Mars by the UAE and China (Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

This instrument will help researchers identify minerals that are beyond the reach of the rover’s robotic arm or in areas too steep for the rover to go.

Although the rover is very similar in design to Curiosity, it has a new array of sensors and equipment, including, for the first time, microphones.

These will record what the entry, descent and landing sounds like, as well as revealing any noises on the surface of Mars.

Dr Brown said: ‘Not only will we then be able to see a region of Mars in all its detail, but also handle material from there and hear what it would be like standing there.

‘Indeed a striking achievement of rover technology when it all comes together this evening. I can’t wait.’ 

Perseverance launched on July 30 from Cape Canaveral Florida aboard a United Launch Alliances Atlas V rocket following probes also sent to Mars by the UAE and China. 

The recent spate of launches to Mars is because astronomers are keen to take advantage of a rare alignment in the orbits of Earth and Mars which makes the red planet relatively close and accessible for a period of a few weeks.

The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under a program that envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making a more ambitious crewed journey to Mars.

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates become the first Arab nation and only the fifth nation overall to place a spaceship in orbit around Mars.

The country’s space probe, called Hope, officially entered Mars orbit at around 16:15 GMT on February 9.

Hope will be the first probe to provide a complete picture of planet’s atmosphere and its layers, according to the UAE. 

China’s orbiter and rover combo – named Tianwen-1 – successfully reached Martian orbit on February 10.

Story reprinted from dailymail.co.uk by Authors: Stacy Liberatore For Dailymail.com and Ryan Morrison For Mailonline and Joe Pinkstone For Mailonline

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