The NASA Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars on Thursday in an epic quest to bring back rocks that could answer whether life ever existed on the red planet.
Ground controllers at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, settled in nervously for the descent of Perseverance to the surface of Mars, long a deathtrap for incoming spacecraft. It took a nail-biting 11 and 1/2 minutes to confirm its success.
The landing of the six-wheeled vehicle marked the third visit to Mars in just over a week. Two spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China swung into orbit around the planet on successive days last week.
"What an amazing team to work through all the adversity and challenges that go with landing a rover on Mars, plus the challenges of COVID," said Steve Jurczyk, Acting Administrator, congratulating the team.
All three missions lifted off in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars, traveling some 300 million miles in nearly seven months.
Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, stood to become the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, every one of them from the US.
The car-size, plutonium-powered rover was aiming for NASA's smallest and trickiest target yet: a 5--by-4-mile strip on an ancient river delta full of pits, cliffs, and fields of rock.