It's a small landing for a rover, and a huge leap for meme-kind.
NASA's Mars rover Perseverance the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another world, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday and landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, its first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
“Touchdown confirmed,” Swati Mohan, the lead guidance and operations specialist announced from the control room. “Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars.”
The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293 million miles (472 million km) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km per hour) to begin its descent to the planet’s surface.
Moments after touchdown, Perseverance beamed back its first black-and-white images from the Martian surface, one of them showing the rover’s shadow cast on the desolate, rocky landing site.
"Hello, world. My first look at my forever home," it wrote.
The photo, which is great considering it has been beamed back over 20.598 million kilometeres, is inspiring memes - and questions on the quality of the camera.
What's with the camera? Are we going back in time?— flightsimboi (@flightsimboi) February 18, 2021
They're also spotting some very familiar sights on the Mars terrain.
Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, the SUV-sized rover had already reached Martian soil by the time its arrival was confirmed by signals relayed to Earth from one of several satellites orbiting Mars.
The spacecraft’s self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of maneuvers that NASA dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.
Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth - the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.
Two subsequent Mars missions are planned to retrieve the samples and return them to NASA in the next decade.