NASA lands rover on Mars for mission seeking signs of life

©Kyodo News

NASA said Thursday that its rover successfully landed on Mars for a mission to look for signs of ancient life on the red planet and collect rock samples to be returned to Earth.

The Perseverance rover, about the size of a small car, was launched from an air force station in Florida on July 30 to travel about 470 million kilometers to Mars. The United Arab Emirates and China also sent their respective spacecraft toward Mars last summer.

According to NASA, an entry capsule carrying the 1-ton rover deployed a parachute to slow down after entering the Martian atmosphere at a speed of about 5 km per second.

Once separated from the capsule, the rover was taken to a safe landing site with the help of its "jet pack," equipped with retrorockets to slow the final descent, where it was to be lowered to the surface on cables.

"Touchdown confirmed," the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration tweeted shortly before 4 p.m.

NASA has aimed to land the rover on Jezero Crater on what is now a desert planet, a place with high potential for finding signs of past microbial life. Scientists believe the 45-km-wide crater was home to a lake about 3.5 billion years ago as well as to an ancient river delta.

The entry, descent and landing are known to be the riskiest portion of the rover's mission, leading some engineers to call the process "seven minutes of terror," according to NASA.

The Perseverance is the fifth robotic vehicle the agency has sent to Mars, with the previous one landing on the planet in 2012.

Scientists hope that the mission will offer clues as to whether life has existed elsewhere in the solar system beyond Earth. Billions of years ago, Mars is believed to have been more similar to Earth, with water on its surface, warmer temperatures and a thicker atmosphere.

Using a 2-meter robotic arm with a coring drill, the Perseverance will collect and store rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by a future NASA mission.

The rover has ferried a small helicopter weighing 1.8 kilograms for an experiment that would make it the first aircraft to fly in a controlled way on another planet. The extremely thin atmosphere of Mars as compared to Earth has made it a challenge to build a rotorcraft capable of flight on the red planet.

The rover will also test technology to convert carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen that could potentially be used on future manned missions for rocket propellant and respiration.

NASA said it has invested approximately $2.4 billion to build and launch the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission.

The mission will last at least one Mars year, or about 687 days on Earth, according to the U.S. space agency.