NASA Lands Rover and First-ever Helicopter on Mars
The USA's Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars with a helicopter called Ingenuity strapped to its belly. The Mars 2020 mission is seen as a first step towards bringing samples of Martian rock back to Earth.
It may be last but by no means least — NASA's Mars 2020 is the third mission to have successfully arrived at the Red Planet in the space of 10 days. It's the USA's largest Mars rover and it's carrying the first-ever Mars helicopter.
The "show," as NASA put it, started late morning Pacific Time (early evening in Central Europe). But it was another two hours before the USA's latest rover, Perseverance, touched down on the surface of Mars at 20:56 UTC.
To land on Mars, the rover started its descent at a speed of over 20,000 kilometers per hour (12,000 miles per hour). A parachute and a powered descent mechanism then slowed the rover to about 3 km/h before a large sky crane lowered it on three bridle cords down to the surface of the planet, touching down on its six wheels.
As planned, Perseverance landed at Jezero Crater, just north of the Martian equator, in a region called Isidis Planitia.
It's a region well-traveled by American landers, including the Curiosity rover, which is still active. But Curiosity is about 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) away at Gale Crater.
Utopia Planitia is also not too far away, relatively speaking. That's where China intends to land its first Mars rover in May.
Perseverance is NASA's largest-ever Mars rover. The rover will search for water and other signs of life below the surface of the planet.
It will also collect rock and soil samples and deposit them in canisters, which — it is planned — will be collected by joint US and European missions and brought back to Earth within the next 10 years.
Then, there's that helicopter, Ingenuity, strapped to the belly of the rover.
The helicopter is an experimental device that NASA wants to use to learn about taking off and flying in the Martian atmosphere. That's significant because the atmosphere there is far thinner than that on Earth, and that can affect flight — the amount of power and lift you need, and the speed at which the helicopter blades rotate.
Whether it works or not is almost irrelevant at this stage, because no matter what happens, it will be the first time any spacefaring nation will have tested flight "on another world," as the American space agency has described it.
Beyond that, those test flights will potentially pave the way for future missions with astronauts going to Mars and coming back, even if that's in 30 years' time. DW
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