A view of the Perseverance rover captured by a camera on its rocket-powered backpack as the robot was lowered to the surface of Jezero Crater. The rover was about six feet off the ground when this photo was taken. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Following on the heels of the United Arab Emirates Hope orbiter and China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, NASA’s $2.4 billion Perseverance rover plunged into the thin atmosphere of Mars on 18 February and executed a hair-raising but flawless descent to landing in Jezero Crater.
Safely secured inside a flying saucer-shaped aeroshell, the spacecraft endured temperatures of some 1,480 degrees Celsius (2,700 F) as it blazed through the upper atmosphere, deployed a 22-metre-wide (70.5 feet) parachute and then fell free for a rocket-powered “sky crane” descent to touchdown.
The rover’s flight computer, using new hazard-avoidance technology, was targeting landing in a roughly circular “footprint” measuring 7.7-by-6.6 kilometres (4.8 by 4.1 miles). It actually landed near the center of that target, about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) beyond a broad delta formation formed by a river that once flowed into the crater more than 3.5 billion years ago.
A colour image of the ground directly in front of Perseverance shows relatively flat terrain and ...