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NASA's Perseverance rover lands on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars
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NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars

Highlights

Begins mission to search for life on red planet

Washington: After seven months in space, NASA's Perseverance rover survived a nail-biting landing phase to touch down gently on the surface of Mars on Thursday, ready to embark on its mission to search for the signs of ancient microbial life.

"Touchdown confirmed," said operations lead Swati Mohan at around 3:55 pm Eastern Time (2055 GMT), as mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena erupted in cheers.

The autonomously guided procedure was completed more than 11 minutes earlier, which is how long it takes for radio signals to return to Earth.

Raised in Northern Virginia and Washington DC metro area, she completed her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her MS and Ph D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aeronautics/Astronautics.

Over the course of her career with NASA, Swati Mohan has worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn and GRAIL — a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon and has been a mainstay with the Mars 2020 mission since its beginning in 2013.

According to Swati Mohan, her interest in space was peaked after watching the popular TV show Star Trek when she was nine-years-old. "Seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking 'I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.' The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn," she had told NASA.

She noted that her passion for space increased further when she took her first physics class. "I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, and everything was so understandable and easy. That was when I really considered engineering, as a way to pursue space," she added.

Commenting on her team's role in the current mission, Swati Mohan said during the cruise phase heading toward Mars, their job is to figure out how the spacecraft is oriented, and make sure it is pointed correctly in space — "solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth, and manoeuvre the spacecraft to get it where we want to go." She said during the "seven minutes of terror" leading to the entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the manoeuvres to help it land safely.

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