Touch down! NASA’s Mars landing sparks new era of exploration
NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down safely in Jezero Crater on Mars on 18 February, kicking off a new era of exploration on the red planet in which rocks will be collected and returned to Earth for the first time.
Encased in a protective heat shield, Perseverance whizzed through the thin Martian atmosphere and then deployed a parachute to slow itself down. In a final landing manoeuvre, a ‘sky crane’ holding the rover fired its rockets to gently lower the six-wheeled, car-sized Perseverance to the surface.
The hunt for life on Mars: A visual guide to NASA’s latest mission
The rover touched down at 3:55 pm US Eastern time, after a nearly seven-month journey from Earth. First images from the surface, taken through the clear lens caps of its hazard-avoidance cameras, showed a dusty landscape studded with rocks. Perseverance is now sitting on the smooth, dark floor of Jezero Crater, about 2 kilometres southeast of what was once a river delta, when the crater was filled with water. High cliffs — the edges of that ancient delta — are barely visible in the initial images captured by the rover.