Perseverance beams back its first images after landing on Mars

19 Feb 2021

The first image from Perseverance's hazard cameras. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars rover will now undergo testing, before beginning its historic mission to collect samples from the Red Planet.

NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on the surface of Mars on Thursday (18 February), after a 472m-kilometre journey that took 203 days.

The rover, which has been tasked with collecting Mars samples that can be returned to Earth, has already beamed back its first images of the Red Planet.

These images are taken from Perseverance’s hazard cameras. The rover features six of these cameras, four on the front and two on the rear, to detect hazards such as large rocks, trenches or sand dunes. Engineers also use the hazard cameras to help move the rover’s robotic arm to take measurements and photos and collect rock and soil samples.

Image from a Perseverance camera, showing a rocky surface.

The view from Perseverance’s right rear camera. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance mission launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 30 July 2020. It is the space agency’s most complex mission to Mars and features the largest and most advanced rover that NASA has sent to another world.

Perseverance, which is 1,026kg and about the size of a car, will now undergo several weeks of testing before it begins a two-year scientific investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. It is set to investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to study its geology and past climate, and search for signs of ancient microbial life.

It will store a cache of Martian surface samples on board as the first part of an international programme to return samples to Earth.

NASA and the European Space Agency then plan to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of life, using instruments that are too large and complex to send to Mars.

“Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA.

“We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental – including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”

NASA staff wearing headsets and facemasks are watching a screen, which is beaming back images from the Perseverance rover.

Members of the Perseverance Mars rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California watch in mission control as the first images arrive. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

While the aim of the mission is geological and astrobiological research, acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk said it will also help prepare for future human exploration of Mars.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” he added.

In a busy year for space exploration, NASA is not the only agency with its eyes on the Red Planet. Earlier this month, the UAE’s Hope mission and the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission both arrived in Mars’ orbit.

Hope returned its first picture of Mars this week. The UAE mission is set to orbit the planet for one Martian year to explore its atmosphere.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic