At around 4 pm eastern time on 18 February, roughly 2:30 am IST on Friday, one of the biggest, complex and most daring Mars missions landed on the red planet. Nasa’s Perseverance rover successfully completed a seven-month long journey to the planet and will now begin searching for signs of past life on Mars.
“Touchdown confirmed!” were the words that Swati Mohan, an Indian-origin engineer and Mars 2020 guidance & controls operations lead at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said as soon as the rover landed safely on the Martian surface.
The final landing was complicated, to say the least. From inflation of the landing parachute and the release of a protective heat shell to the separation of the cruise stage, there were many aspects of the landing that could have gone wrong, Rob Manning, chief engineer at Nasa's JPL, explained during a live broadcast on Nasa’s YouTube channel.
Here, we look at some key numbers and science behind the mission:
5: Perseverance is the fifth rover to touch down on Mars. This feat was first achieved in 1997 by Sojourner, which was part of the Pathfinder mission. While all of the rovers to so far reach Mars have been American, China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft is expected to touch down with a stationary lander and a rover in May, an AFP report adds.
687: Nasa’s Perseverance rover is so far expected to have a mission duration of at least one Mars year, about 687 Earth days. But as seen in previous missions, Mars rovers can easily exceed expectations and run longer. The Curiosity rover, which landed on the planet in 2012 and had an initial mission duration of just 2 years, is still functioning.
Jezero: Scientists believe that around 3.5 billion years ago the Jezero crater was home to a river that flowed into a lake, depositing sediment in a delta which is shaped like a fan. The rover will collect samples from the crater and prepare them for a possible round trip back to earth for detailed analysis. Using a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, Perseverance will then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission.
Like an SUV: Perseverance weighs close to a ton -- that’s roughly the size of an SUV. It is the largest and most sophisticated robotic explorer sent to Mars. Apart from multiple cameras that will be its eyes on the uncertain Martian terrain, the rover is also equipped with different scientific instruments that will not only look for biosignatures but test technologies that would help sustain human presence on Mars in the future.
First flight: Hitching a ride on Perseverance is the Mars helicopter ‘Ingenuity’. According to the AFP report, Ingenuity will have to achieve lift in an atmosphere that's 1% the density of Earth's. The demonstration of this concept, if successful, could change the way we explore other planets. For instance, Ingenuity could be used as a scout for future Mars rover missions.