Last Thursday, after a seven-month-long journey of over 300 million miles, NASA’s Perseverance rover gave the world its first close-up look at a Mars landing with an incredible photograph of the red planet. Equipped with an amazing 25 cameras and two microphones, the rover touched town near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater, which, according to the Associated Press, hosted a lake 3.9 billion years ago. Just as it did with the Curiosity rover in 2012, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed Perseverance throughout its terrifying seven-minute descent through the Martian atmosphere.
“This is something that we’ve never seen before,” said flight system engineer Aaron Stehura. “It was stunning, and the team was awestruck. There’s just a feeling of victory that we were able to capture these and share it with the world.”
Perseverance will explore the delta for signs of ancient life, collecting promising rock samples that scientists on Earth can analyze in a decade. “I love rocks,” said the rover from its official Twitter account. “Look at these right next to my wheel. Are they volcanic or sedimentary? What story do they tell? Can’t wait to find out.” The rock pictured is a mineral called olivine, according to deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan. “That’s a mineral that is very interesting to us, and thoughts are that this could be an explosive ash deposit… [or] lake sediments.” Morgan will help lead a team of 450 scientists from around the world as they study Perseverance’s images and plot paths for the rover within Jezero Crater.
Tucked inside the rover is a little helicopter called Ingenuity. Both Ingenuity and Perseverance will take some time for hardware checkups before they can keep exploring, including a month-long series of test flights for the helicopter. “A lot has to happen and it will take time,” said strategic mission manager Pauline Hwang, but “the rover is doing great and is healthy on the surface of Mars and continues to be highly functional and awesome.”
“This is incredible,” said freshman Rachel Shaw. “I’ve been following the different engineering marvels from NASA and SpaceX for a while now, and every new feat has me so excited.” Shaw, who is pursuing a double-major in biochemistry and Spanish, has been following NASA’s operations since she was eight years old and recently received a grant for climate research from them. “Seeing Perseverance’s pictures of Mars made my heart rate pick up because I was looking in high resolution at the ground of a whole new planet! That’s hard to wrap your head around. I am so incredibly excited to see what Perseverance finds and to see what NASA has in store for us next.”
As the rover announced on Twitter, “Exploration awaits.”