After nearly seven minutes of barely breathing, the technicians and scientists at NASA’s Perseverance mission command center burst into applause when the first images of Mars appeared on the big screen: the rover, carrying the Ingenuity drone, had landed on its belly. safely on the surface of the red planet.
Unlike the other missions that reached Mars at the same time (the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probes and China’s Tianwen-1 probe), which now orbit the planet, Perseverance was launched to descend directly to the surface – which it he did it at 5:48 pm (Brasília time), when he warned the command of the mission, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that it was entering the thin Martian atmosphere, at almost 20,000 km / h.
For seven minutes, the probe maneuvered to land smoothly (which NASA prayed would happen) at the chosen point – the longer it takes for the transmitted radio signals to reach Earth, which is 11 minutes. When the applause erupted in the hitherto silent room of the mission’s operations center, Perseverance had been on the Martian surface for four minutes, intact, functional and sending the first images of Mars.
Signs of life
Perseverance will investigate signs of life on Mars. The rover is expected to travel about 20 kilometers from the planet’s surface for about two years, looking for traces of life in the 3.5 billion-year delta of the river that flowed into the lake that occupied the Jezero crater millions of years ago.
To do this, he will drill the soil and collect rock samples, placing them in sterile sealed tubes that will be returned to Earth for analysis in 2026 for a future mission to the planet.
With a project similar to the Curiosity rover, which is now studying the Gale crater, Perseverance carries the Ingenuity, the first robotic helicopter designed to fly on another planet, in its interior: there will be 30 Martian days (31 on Earth) of tests . He must fly five times during the month of testing on Martian soil – each flight should last between three and five minutes, reaching altitudes between three and ten meters and distances up to 300 meters.