And just like that... we may be one step closer to knowing if little green men from Mars was ever really a thing!
The car-size rover Perseverance, launched in July 2020, successfully touched down on the Mars surface Thursday afternoon, becoming NASA’s fifth rover to land on the red planet. The success kicks off the agency’s most ambitious mission yet to examine whether life ever existed on Mars.
So what's next? The Perseverance mission is part of a broader NASA initiative with the European Space Agency that aims to collect samples of rocks and sediment from Mars and return them to Earth.
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The rover is outfitted with a suite of seven tools to study the planet’s geology and past climate. In addition to high-powered cameras, Perseverance is equipped with a drill and robotic arm to collect samples, an instrument to examine the chemical composition of rocks and sediments, a tool to measure weather on Mars and an experiment to test if oxygen can be produced from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.
Perseverance is also carrying a helicopter, known as Ingenuity, that mission controllers will use to attempt the first controlled flights on another planet. The 4-pound drone is designed to fly around and scout out nearby areas in and around Jezero Crater.
Speaking with NBCLX moments before the landing, Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year on the international space station, explained the significance of the mission and the basic human drive to explore the outer boundaries of space.
"I think it's genetic. If we didn't have that gene to explore and to venture further beyond the horizon we'd probably still be living in caves," Kelly said. "There's a lot we can learn. Most of us are scientifically-minded and there's a lot we can learn not only about Mars but our own place in the universe."
Lori Glaze, NASA's Planetary Science Division Director, also attempted to put the Perseverance mission into context.
"Being able to go to Mars and actually collect a sample that we know exactly where it came from and for us to be able to study that here in our laboratory is amazing," Glaze said. "We're going to get a lot of information with this sample return."