Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, every one of them from the USA, beginning in the 1970s. Yet its location is critical to the core of the rover's mission: to look for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars, and understand how Mars evolved from a habitable world to the cold, barren planet it is today.
It will search for ancient fossils and bring back samples from the rocks and soil.
Perseverance promptly sent back a grainy, black-and-white photo of Mars' pockmarked surface, the rover's shadow visible in the frame.
The car-size, plutonium-powered rover was aiming for NASA's smallest and trickiest target yet: a five-by-four-mile strip on an ancient river delta full of pits, cliffs and fields of rock.
There were jubilant scenes at Mission Control after the rover's safe landing was confirmed.
He said if all goes according to plan, people will see an image of the surface of Mars.
Flight controllers waited helplessly as the preprogrammed spacecraft hit the thin, 95% carbon dioxide Martian atmosphere at 12,100 miles per hour (19,500 kph), or 16 times the speed of sound, slowing as it plummeted. It takes about 11 minutes for radio signals in Mars to arrive to Earth.
The daredevil nature of the rover's descent to the Martian surface, at a site that NASA described as both tantalizing to scientists and especially hazardous for landing, was a momentous achievement in itself. Perseverance is "alive on the surface of Mars", declared a NASA spokesperson seconds after confirmation of the landing.
Perseverance will stay on the planet for one Mars year, about 687 days here on Earth.
Hitting the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft will have to rapidly decelerate to land at about 2 mph, during what rocket scientists call "seven minutes of terror".
Perseverance, a six-wheeled, SUV-sized vehicle with the most sophisticated robotic astrobiology lab ever launched and an experimental aerial drone aboard, is at the heart of the Mars 2020 mission.
The landing followed a journey that began July 22, 2020 when Perseverance was launched from Cape Canaveral.
"It's a good place to start to explore the role of meteorite impacts in the origin of life, as long as they look out for the habitats, nutrients, and building blocks for life that we outlined in our study", said Dr. Gordon Osinski, who is the Director of Western's Institute for Earth and Space Exploration. Mini-helicopters will be used in the future to extend the reach of landers and rovers. But to me, the other part of that is, we'd want to know why there's not life there now. NASA has three Mars satellites still in orbit, along with two from the European Space Agency.
Should it safely land, Perseverance will have company elsewhere on the red planet.
"Mars is hard, and we never take success for granted", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, said at a recent online media briefing.
"There's been a lot of work done to really assess how the instruments are going to work together and determining what minerals are present and what minerals are the most interesting ones to sample", he said.
While the mission to return samples from Mars has yet to be fully planned, NASA scientists say that if all goes to plan we could have samples from Mars back on Earth by 2031.