The first image beamed back to Earth from the Mars rover Peseverance after landing on the surface.

NASA

NASA successfully landed its fifth robotic rover on Mars on Thursday. The US space agency confirmed that Perseverance landed safely on the surface of the red planet.

“Touchdown confirmed,” said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission control.

The rover is the most technologically advanced robot NASA has ever sent to Mars. The agency plans to explore the surface for almost two years. The agency spent around $ 2.4 billion to build and launch the Perseverance mission. Another US $ 300 million is expected to land and operate the rover on the surface of Mars.

Based on its predecessor Curiosity, which reached Mars in August 2012 and is still in operation, the Perseverance rover was built by NASA’s JPL in California. Several companies have contributed to parts of the spacecraft, including the Lockheed Martin-built heat shield, the Aerojet Rocketdyne-built rocket engines, and the robotic arm built by Maxar Technologies.

Perseverance also has a small helicopter called Ingenuity with which NASA plans to attempt the first flight on another planet.

Engineers observe the first test drive for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on December 17, 2019.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The rover is about the size of a small car, weighs about a ton in total, and is 10 feet long, nine feet wide, and seven feet high. It has a robotic arm that is about seven feet long, the end of which has a robotic hand that has a camera, chemical analyzer, and rock drill. Perseverance is powered by nuclear power and has a plutonium generator supplied by the US Department of Energy to generate power for its pair of lithium-ion batteries.

Since launching a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 30, Perseverance has traveled 293 million miles to reach Mars over a period of more than six months.

Hold the landing

This illustration shows the events in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey NASA’s Perseverance Rover takes to Mars

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The landing of the rover showed the typical “seven minutes of terror” that NASA engineers describe for any attempt by a spacecraft to reach the surface of Mars. This is the time it takes to enter the Martian atmosphere and descend to the surface. It is known as such because it takes 11 minutes for communication from the rover back to earth. This means that the spaceship and the rover must perform the time delay to land autonomously.

Persistence entered the Martian atmosphere in a capsule that protected the rover as it moved at a speed of approximately 12,100 miles per hour. The starship then parachuted to slow down before the capsule and heat shield were dropped, and then fired its rocket engines to slow down from about 170 mph to about two mph

An animation of the spacecraft with the Mars rover Perseverance firing its engines to slow the landing.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Next, the spaceship deployed its “sky crane”, which lowered the rover the remaining few meters to the surface.

An animation of the Mars rover Perserverance, which is being lowered onto the surface of Mars by the “sky crane”.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Endurance landed in Jezero Crater, a 45 km wide basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It’s a place NASA believes a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe was flowing. NASA’s science team is hoping that the ancient river delta may have received organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life that Perseverance will attempt to detect with its instruments.

The target landing area of ‚Äč‚ÄčNASA’s Perseverance rover is superimposed on this image of the landing site on Mars, the Jezero crater.

ESA / DLR / FU-Berlin / NASA / JPL-Caltech

In addition to its scientific instruments, the rover also carries a plaque to honor COVID-19 health care workers and the impact of the pandemic.

The rover also has the names of 10.9 million people written in morse code on three silicon chips on the rover with the words “Explore as one”.

Perseverance mission

The rover is packed with cameras to capture its expedition. The robot is full of scientific instruments to measure the geology of the planet – and hopefully collect samples that NASA plans to return to Earth one day.

NASA plans to push persistence to the surface for a Martian year, equivalent to 687 days on Earth.

It has seven main instruments for a variety of purposes: Mastcam-Z, Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Use Experiment (MOXIE), Planetary X-ray Lithochemistry Instrument (PIXL), Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), scanning of habitable environments with Raman and luminescence for organic and chemical substances (SHERLOC) and SuperCam.

The rover also has a sample caching system with nine different drills and a variety of sample collection tubes to capture parts of the Martian surface for eventual return to Earth.

“Perseverance is the first rover to bring a sample caching system to Mars that packages promising samples for return to Earth on a future mission,” NASA said in a press release. “Instead of pulverizing rock like the Curiosity drill does, the Perseverance drill cuts intact rock cores about the size of a piece of chalk and places them in sample tubes that are stored until the rover reaches a convenient drop-off point on Mars.”

NASA hopes to return the sample in the future as part of a campaign in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

The rover is designed to cover more ground than any other robot previously sent to Mars. NASA designed Perseverance to travel an average of 650 feet per Mars day. This roughly equates to the longest trip the NASA Opportunity Rover made in a day at 702 feet.

The goal is the first flight on another planet

The Perseverance rover with the Ingenuity helicopter visible underneath was preparing for takeoff.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity helicopter. A few months after landing, NASA plans to use the helicopter under Perseverance in a flat area. The rover then drives about 100 meters away to record the attempted flight with the rover’s cameras.

An animation of the Perseverance rover using the Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

If everything goes at will, Ingenuits Flight will be the first powered controlled flight on another planet in what NASA calls the “Wright Brothers Moment” on Mars.

An animation of the Ingenuity helicopter making its first flight on Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis as well as live business day programs from around the world.