NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on the surface of Mars after a seven-month journey from Earth — starting its mission to find signs of ancient Martian life. This followed a heart-stopping “seven minutes of terror” descent into the thin atmosphere, where no one knew whether the rover had made it or not. But once NASA received the signal of wheel touchdown, the agency had landed the most advanced robotic rover to navigate the surface of the Red Planet.

“There are a series of challenges between now and the first flight of the first-ever helicopter on Mars,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity helicopter project manager. “Surviving that first cold frigid night on Mars will be a major milestone. We’ll execute a series of checkouts, and then we’ll perform that very first flight.”

The Perseverance lander touched down on Mars at roughly 3:55 PM EST on Thursday, Feb. 18, and NASA streamed the event live on the agency’s YouTube channel (featured below).

“And if the first flight is successful, we have up to four more flights in the 30 Martian days that we had set aside for our flight experiments,” said Aung. Ingenuity will attempt its flight in the next 30 days.

“It’s the biggest and best rover we’ve ever sent to Mars,” said Mike Watkins — Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who was also mission commander for Curiosity’s landing on the Red Planet.

“But it’s also the first-ever Mars sample return,” added Watkins. “For places that are far away like Mars, or even farther away — like Europa — right now robots are the only way we can make these scientific discoveries and really understand these early habitable environments.”

“We’re not really ready to go there with astronauts yet, but the robots are,” said Watkins. “Every time we do one of these missions, we make more fantastic discoveries.”

Soon, Perseverance will launch the first flying vehicle on Mars — a helicopter.

The Perseverance vehicle has already located where it landed on the Red Planet. “NASA works!” exclaimed an official in mission control.

Steve Jurczyk, the acting NASA administrator, described the historic landing, saying: “It’s amazing to have Perseverance join Curiosity on Mars.”

“Landing a rover on Mars plus the challenges of COVID — it’s just an amazing accomplishment,” said Jurczyk. This mission “will allow us to land larger and more ambitious robots on the surface of Mars.”

“We’re going to eventually figure out how to extract water from under the Martian soil — which can be recycled into rocket fuel,” said Jurczyk.