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NASA's Rover Perseverance Safely Lands On Mars

NOEL KING, HOST:

NASA's rover Perseverance touched down on Mars as scheduled at 3:55 Eastern time yesterday afternoon, and NPR's Joe Palca was watching.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Landing a rover on Mars is really, really hard. You only get one chance - get it right the first time, or else. Perseverance reached Mars traveling at 12,000 mph. At 3:48, the sequence known as entry, descent and landing began.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SWATI MOHAN: We have confirmation of entry interface.

PALCA: Swati Mohan narrated the landing from the control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. A spacecraft orbiting Mars relayed telemetry from the rover so mission managers on Earth would know exactly what was going on. First, a heat shield slowed the rover. Then, a parachute had to deploy, a step engineers confessed they were a bit worried about because the Perseverance parachute had a new design. So there was great relief when Mohan made this announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAN: Navigation has confirmed that the parachute has deployed, and we are seeing significant deceleration.

PALCA: Then, a jet pack took over, bringing the rover essentially to a halt so it could be lowered to the surface on a tether, a move known as the sky crane.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAN: Touchdown confirmed.

(APPLAUSE)

PALCA: The rover was aiming for Jezero Crater, a place on Mars that scientists think was once home to a lake that dried up 3.5 billion years ago. But there's a chance that before it dried up, it was home to some form of Martian microbial life. And there's also a chance the rover instruments would be able to see a signature of that life in the rocks in the crater. So for scientists, landing in Jezero Crater was very desirable. For engineers, it was not. That's because the crater floor is filled with boulders that would end the mission if the rover came down on one. So this rover had a special navigation system that could look for a safe place to land, and it found one.

UNIDENTIFIED NASA EMPLOYEE: We've landed about 35 meters from the nearest rocks that we could identify from orbit by their shadows.

PALCA: Now mission managers will make sure that all the rover's systems survived the landing. And soon, videos the rover took as it landed should be relayed back to Earth. Those should be stunning.

Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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