NASA’s Perseverance Rover on Thursday completed the most difficult landing ever attempted on Mars, quickly sending back images from the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater.
The robotic spacecraft can now embark on the meat of its “Mars 2020” mission, which is to find evidence of ancient life on the planet. This is the first ever American mission designed to find life on another world.
Federal elected officials from the Yellowhammer State and beyond celebrated the achievement.
Very pleased that @NASA’s Perseverance rover & Ingenuity helicopter–named by Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, AL–have safely landed on the surface of Mars. Congratulations to everyone from NASA & @ULA involved in successfully delivering the @NASAPersevere mission to its destination.
— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) February 18, 2021
“Alabama’s leadership in space exploration is showcased once again – the rocket that launched the Perseverance Rover to Mars was made in Decatur,” stated U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). “This would not have been possible without the world-class innovation from the men and women at ULA. Congratulations to NASA and all involved in this historic milestone!”
U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) tweeted, “Congratulations to [NASA] and the contractors on another successful Mars landing – this time, the Perseverance. Alabama built the rocket that got it there (ULA Atlas V), and Tuscaloosa County High School student Vaneeza Rupani named the Ingenuity helicopter!”
ULA and its heritage rockets have launched every previous U.S.-led mission to Mars, beginning in the 1960s. In fact, the perfectly-executed launch of this latest mission marked ULA’s 20th trip to Mars.
While the discoveries already made from prior missions are amazing — including that liquid water once was prevalent on Mars and that life might still exist under the Red Planet’s surface, Mars 2020 is expected to reveal even more groundbreaking information, then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine outlined last year. He thanked ULA for making the mission possible.
“[T]his is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars,” he emphasized. “It’s a great day.”
“Are we going to be able to do that? We don’t know. We don’t know if life existed there or not. But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable. We don’t know that it was inhabited, but we know that it was habitable,” Bridenstine continued. “And now we’re actually, no kidding, going to do an astrobiology mission to the surface of Mars.”
He mentioned that then-President Donald Trump has challenged NASA with planting an American flag on Mars in the near future as part of the Artemis program, which is also powered by Alabama.
Today’s successful @NASAPersevere landing represents a leap forward in our understanding of Mars’ history and evolution.
— NASA’s Artemis Program (@NASAArtemis) February 18, 2021
“In order to do that, we’re going to need to send humans,” Bridenstine noted. “And when we send humans to Mars, they’re going to have to be able to breathe, and we can’t take all of that oxygen with us [to the planet]. So in this mission (Mars 2020), we have a technology demonstration called ‘Moxie.’ We’re going to take the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars and we’re going to turn it into oxygen, so that when humans get there, we know that we know that we know that we’re going to be able to create the oxygen necessary for life support.”
He further stressed that another important Mars 2020 technology demonstration will come in the form of the Ingenuity helicopter.
According to NASA, the helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover. The vehicle will eventually deploy and operate on its own throughout the planet; the helicopter will become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, per NASA. Ingenuity, weighing four pounds and operating under solar power, was named by an Alabama high school student.
“I love that this whole experience sparked a greater interest in the mission.”
— NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” Bridenstine advised.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn