"If there is a chance to find signs of ancient life", responded Bridenstine, "that is a place to find it".
The Perseverance rover will pick up some rock and soil samples to bring back to Earth some day. First of all, the dust is still settling after the landing so the images may look a bit grainy. It's not an easy task, especially with the landing zone being Jezero Crater - a wide basin filled with rocks that scientists believe was once an ancient river delta.
In 2012, footage of Curiosity's descent into Mars went viral online but used computer-generated animations.
There is one other exciting experiment aboard the rover - a mini-helicopter, known as Ingenuity. It's the first chopper attempting to fly on another planet.
The one-way time it takes for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is about 11 minutes, which means the seven minutes it takes for the spacecraft to land on Mars occurs without any help or intervention from NASA teams on Earth. In order to land, it had to go through the infamous "seven minutes of terror".
The primary objective of Perseverance's two-year, $2.7 billion endeavor is to search for signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars some 3 billion years ago, about the time life was emerging on Earth.
Since Perseverance's launch in July 2020, Willis has been working on getting the rover ready to collect samples once it arrives on Mars. Sample return missions are extremely rare due to their expense; indeed, there has never been a sample return mission from another planet. One of those cameras helped guide Perseverance to the surface Thursday during a descent that's called "seven minutes of terror" because the spacecraft must slow from 12,500 miles per hour to almost zero in a comparatively short distance.
"The whole idea of being on a device that we're sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it's pretty mind boggling actually", said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.
For a more complete look at the mission and its remarkable landing method, you can read yesterday's profile of the Perseverance mission.
The second image transmitted to Earth after the landing, with the rover's wheel visible at right.
"So, this isn't just a NASA effort and there's scientists from all over the world who will want the data from this mission", said Nichols. The Mars landing engines, which include eight retrorockets, fired to slow the descent to 1.7 miles per hour - or the average walking speed of a human. It's about the size of a small auto and it's been created to be sturdy enough to last for years in Mars' extreme environment.
"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", Steve Jurczyk, NASA's acting administrator, said in an agency statement shortly after the successful landing. The circle represents where the Perseverance rover is expected to land.
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