Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars on Thursday at 3:56 p.m. ET, carrying on its belly a 4-pound drone helicopter known as Ingenuity. By early next week, any video or audio captured during the rover's landing should be relayed to Earth, the first time any Mars landing has been captured in such detail.
Researchers believe Ingenuity will help plan for future Mars missions.
Percy, as it is nicknamed, was created to drill down with its 2-metre arm and collect rock samples that might hold signs of bygone microscopic life.
Perseverance landed after a drop through the thin Martian atmosphere at speeds that started more than 2,000 miles per hour. It'd be the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
This final minuscule portion of the trip is sometimes referred to as 'seven minutes of terror' - not only because of the intricate sequence involved, but also because radio signals take so long to reach Earth that, by the time they've reached us, the landing has already happened.
Landing on Mars is never easy, and even though Nasa has become expert at it, everyone on the Perseverance team had spoken with great caution going into Thursday.
It will be a complex endeavour involving a second rover, a Mars rocket and a huge satellite to ship the Jezero materials home.
This illustration shows Jezero Crater - the landing site of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover - as it may have looked billions of years go on Mars, when it was a lake. Some 3.8 billion years ago, a thicker and warmer martian atmosphere allowed water to flow on the surface: One river penetrated Jezero, creating a delta of sediments and filling the crater almost to the rim with water. Mini-helicopters will be used in the future to extend the reach of landers and rovers. It will take 10 years for the samples to be returned to Earth and NASA.
After a 292.5 million mile journey that began on July 30, the Mars rover will finally touch down on the red planet this afternoon on the USA eastern time zone.
"Being able to answer questions like that is the whole reason why I joined NASA to begin with", he said.
Once the spacecraft has slowed down to less than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) an hour, it's time to deploy the 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide supersonic parachute at an altitude of seven miles (11 kilometers). Of course, it doesn't have any provisions for passengers, but it does have a bevy of cameras and instruments created to explore and study Mars in greater detail than ever before.
"The Mars sample return project is probably the most challenging thing we've ever attempted within Nasa", said planetary science director Lori Glaze, "and we don't do any of these things alone".
"This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally, when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks", Steve Jurczyk, NASA's acting administrator, said in an agency statement shortly after the successful landing.