NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars Thursday, beginning what is slated to be an almost two-year search for ancient life on the red planet.
The rover touched down at the massive Jezero Crater, which scientists believe could contain the signs of ancient microbial life for which Perseverance is looking. The crater was once the site of a sprawling lake and river delta that theoretically would have hosted optimal conditions for microorganisms to live and be preserved.
“Hello, world. My first look at my forever home,” the rover’s Twitter account said in a post that was accompanied by a black and white image of the planet’s surface. “And another look behind me. Welcome to Jezero Crater. #CountdownToMars.”
The highly-advanced rover is slated to carry out a mission that will last for one Mars year, or roughly 687 Earth days.
Its journey to Mars took nearly seven months, and it will now begin the process of collecting rock core samples that will be stored in metal tubes for return to Earth on future missions. The samples are key to understanding whether life once existed on the planet the US now hopes to send humans to as early as the 2030s.
Perseverance, which is NASA’s most advanced rover to date, is being tasked with four core missions, including testing oxygen production in the Martian atmosphere to prepare for manned missions.
To carry out its mission, the small-car-sized rover is carrying a slew of sophisticated technologies including a helicopter known as Ingenuity, which is slated to carry out the first powered flight on the red planet. The drone will take first-of-their-kind visual images of the planet’s surface that can be relayed back to Earth.
Perseverance is also carrying microphones that will allow for the first audio from the planet to be heard by humans.