With everything that's been going on here in Houston, it's understandable that you may have missed the historic event that occurred 292.5 million miles away on Thursday afternoon when NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on the face of Mars. But we could all use some joy right now, so let's savor what NASA (and, somehow, in part at least, thanks to Houston, we maintain) just pulled off.
The rover, nicknamed "Percy," took more than six months to go from Earth to the red planet. It is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever built—it's even equipped with recording gear to capture the sound of Mars for the first time—and it's mission in the coming months and years will be to explore the planet, searching for signs of ancient life by collecting microfossils and soil in the Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago, which will be collected and returned to Earth on subsequent NASA missions. There are also plans to attempt to fly a helicopter, Ingenuity, on the planet.
But that's all to come. On Thursday NASA folks in the Jet Propulsion Lab in California (alas, our Johnson Space Center doesn't have purview over this mission) oversaw the "seven minutes of terror" that every team behind a Mars rover landing has experienced when, due to the delay in radio signals, the rover is out of touch with NASA for about seven minutes of the landing procedure. But it went off without a hitch, and afterward Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, let the public in on a post-landing ritual: The moment he ripped up the contingency plan for dealing with a failed landing.
"Every time we do a launch or we do a landing, we get two plans. One plan is the one we want to do, and then there's that second plan." - #NASAScience's @Dr_ThomasZ celebrates a successful #CountdownToMars landing by ripping up the contingency plan. pic.twitter.com/pexxK5a07d— NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
Now, Percy is off on its two-year mission, which we'll all be able to follow via an interactive map. At the same time, we'll also be able to take in the rover's trip photos in real time, since any images captured will be uploaded directly to NASA's site. There's going to be so much to look forward to seeing.
And while it does admittedly smart a bit that this mission isn't being run here at the JSC, considering the role Space City has played in everything that had to come before now to make Percy's presence on Mars possible—and the week we've had—so let's all take a moment, take a little credit, and check out what the rover had to do to successfully land, and the images it has sent back so far:
It went like this:
And then this:
And then the photos started coming back:
And this is just the start. There will be more to come, and we can't wait.