By Joel Achenbach, Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino
NASA rover Perseverance landed safely Thursday on Mars to begin an ambitious mission to search for signs of past Martian life and obtain samples of soil and rock that could someday be hauled back to Earth for study in laboratories.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” announced Swati Mohan, the guidance and control operations lead for the mission at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Cheers, clapping and fist-pumps erupted in the control room, which was half-empty because of the coronavirus pandemic. Someone shouted: “TRN, TRN,” referring to the terrain relative navigation system that allowed Perseverance to land in a rugged area full of natural hazards.
Perseverance, the first multibillion-dollar NASA mission to Mars in nine years, quickly produced two low-resolution images of the landing site — a forlorn landscape pocked with small craters. Dust kicked up by the landing covered the glass shields on the cameras. The pair of photos showed the rover casting a shadow on the Martian landscape.