NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on the surface of Mars, transmitting telemetry information and the first images of its landing site. A low-resolution driving-camera image shows a field of dust-covered rocks, with the unmistakable shadow of the rover hardware. The early images are so fresh that you can still see the dust kicked up by the landing settling.
The landing came at the end of a cruise through interplanetary space and a dive through the Martian atmosphere, as the rover and its rocket-supported crane shed parachutes, a heat shield, and a lot of speed. The voyage culminated in the skycrane gently lowering the rover to the surface before rocketing off to land at a safe distance.
NASA refers to the landing protocol as “seven minutes of terror,” due to its complicated, multistage nature, all of which is run under automated guidance. Adding to the tension, all of the outcomes already happened over 10 minutes ago by the time any indication of their success reaches Earth.
Since this isn’t the first time NASA has talked about seven minutes of terror, it’s tempting to be complacent about the chances for success with the Perseverance landing. But Perseverance is only the second time this complicated landing procedure has been attempted, so past performance wasn’t necessarily going to be an indication of future success. But everything about today’s landing appears to have worked just as well as its predecessor.
More work to do
With the rover now successfully on the ground, there will be several days of deploying hardware from the compact configuration it was held in for landing while ensuring that everything on board the rover is operating as expected. We should, however, expect to see images from the landing site in the very near future. Photos of the immediate environment will also be used to start planning Perseverance’s first activities on the red planet.
During this time, the rover will likely transmit images and video taken during the landing protocol. Although we know the landing worked, we’ll have to wait for that to have any sense of how it worked, at least from the landing hardware’s perspective.
In the past, NASA has also arranged for images of the landing area using the superb telescope on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which can often pick up discarded hardware like the parachutes and heat shield. But the timing of those images will depend on the orbit of the MRO.
Perseverance is a bold mission, carrying a small flying drone, a chemistry experiment to test the generation of oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, and hardware to stash samples for a future return to Earth. Expect plenty of updates as the mission proceeds.