The American space agency is expected to release new photos from its Perseverance rover shortly.

There was huge excitement at Nasa when its one-tonne robot touched down in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Thursday.

Satellites have since been flying over the ($ 2.7bn/£1.9bn) vehicle to pull off data to relay back to Earth.

Among all this information should be further views from the rover – of its surroundings, and some pictures it took during the descent to the surface.

Perseverance is sitting almost bang in the middle of its targeted landing zone, about 2km to the southeast of what remains of an ancient river delta that formed at the edge of a lake.

Engineers were delighted to see that hazard-avoidance systems had steered the rover away from tricky terrain in the last moments before wheels down.

Jezero crater

NASA

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The coming days will be consumed by getting Perseverance properly commissioned. Nasa will want to check over the hardware to be sure nothing was damaged during what would have been a rough ride to the ground.

Perseverance’s mast, with its main camera system, must be raised. The software that got the vehicle to Mars’s surface must also now be exchanged for a software system that enables the robot to drive across that surface.

But it’s going to be the pictures that will enthral the public, of course.

“For the first time, we’re going to see ourselves in high-definition video landing on another planet,” said deputy project manager Matt Wallace.

“We think we’ve captured, hopefully, some pretty spectacular video. And they come with a microphone as well.”

Landing maps

NASA

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The Perseverance team was still revelling in the excitement of the landing hours after it had happened.

Swati Mohan is the guidance, navigation and controls (GNC) operations lead on the project. She was given the honour of calling the rover down as the telemetry came back to Earth.

She told the BBC: “I was so focused on what I needed to hear in order to know what I needed to say that it wasn’t until after I called ‘touchdown confirmed’ and people started cheering that I realised, ‘oh my gosh, we actually did this. We are actually on Mars. This is not a practice run. This is the real thing’.”

Strict coronavirus protocols mean Nasa is currently having to limit the number of people at its mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Going forward, this means that much of the management of the rover and its activities will be spread across other centres, and even in people’s homes on their laptops.

“Normally, we would all be together in Pasadena, ready to dive right in, but it’s been tough, you know, getting this mission going through the pandemic,” explained Briony Horgan from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“But Nasa has done a fantastic job diverting resources to make it all happen. And on the science team, I think we’ve really learned how to work together remotely and that’s going to be incredibly important in the months to come.”

Landing graphic

One near-term objective will be to run a helicopter experiment. Perseverance carried with it a mini-chopper that will attempt to make the first powered flight in another world – what might be described as a “Wright Brothers moment” for Mars.

Only after this will the robot get on with the serious business of its mission, which is to seek signs of past microbial life. It will head first to Jezero’s ancient delta system.

Infographic

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Deltas are built by rivers as they push out into a wider body of water and dump their sediment. Scientists are hoping that incorporated into the material that built Jezero’s delta are the tell-tale signatures of ancient micro-organisms.

Perseverance will sample the base of the delta and then move towards the rim of the crater. It’s at the rim that satellites have detected carbonate rocks, which on Earth are particularly good at trapping biological activity.

Perseverance has a suite of instruments that will examine all these formations in detail, down to the microscopic level.

Sample rocks displaying the rover’s most intriguing findings will be deposited in small tubes that will be left on the floor of the crater. These will be picked up by later missions to be returned to Earth.

Mars Sample Return illustrated guide

Illustrated guide to the Mars sample return missions

Click here to see how Nasa and Esa will bring rocks from Mars to Earth.

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