Touchdown confirmed – there is a new robot on Mars!
The American space agency, Nasa, successfully landed its Perseverance rover in a deep crater called Jezero near the planet’s equator on Friday 18 at 21.55 local time.
Percy, to her friends, the six-wheeled robot landed after a seven month, 470 million- km voyage from Earth through space. It will now spend the next two years drilling into rocks, looking for evidence of past life. It’s the first time a science mission has gone to Mars with such an advanced set of equipment, and it is the first time a robot has been sent to such a promising location in terms of finding past life.
The engineers in Nasa HQ were delighted when they were given confirmation that the rover had landed, with many jumping for joy at the news. They had been very nervous before the touchdown because landing on the red planet is never easy and it’s only the second time Nasa has done so with a rover weighing more than one tonne. Many missions to Mars have ended in failure.
Percy had to handle everything about the landing all on her own, that’s because the landing happens so quickly, there isn’t enough time for information or any adjustments that could have been needed to be sent back and forth to Earth. The spacecraft was travelling at around 19,300 kph and had to slow down to a gentle landing speed in just seven minutes, Because Perseverance is so heavy, and a parachute alone isn’t enough to slow it down. Instead, rockets were used to cut the spacecraft’s speed even more, until it was just above the planet’s surface.
At that point, the rover itself was lowered to the ground using what NASA calls a “sky crane”. NASA’s scientist call this the “seven minutes of terror” that’s because they can’t do anything except wait to find out if the Rover had landed safely.) Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater. It’s a dangerous place to land; it’s full of huge rocks and cliffs. But NASA believes that Jezero was home to a giant lake billions of years ago and scientist believe that where there has been water, then there is the possibility life might also have existed.
So what is Perserverance up to now?
Over the next few days, like any good tourist, she’s going to take lots of photos to send back to earth, then she will start using its special drill to collect rock samples and store them in special tubes. Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) then hope to send a second rover in a multi-billion dollar mission to collect these tubes towards the end of the decade.
Having the rocks in their laboratories on Earth will help scientists because they’ll be able to use more sophisticated technology to analyse whether there has been life on the red planet. Perseverance is also trying out something else completely new on Mars: she’s carrying a small helicopter drone called Ingenuity. Ingenuity will make the FIRST ever powered flight on any other non-Earth planet. It could completely change the way Mars is explored in the future.
Did you know?
The name Perseverance was chosen by Alexander Mather, a 13-year-old student from Virginia in the US, who took part in Nasa’s competition to name the robot.