Nasa engineers were left “awestruck” after a stunning image of its Perseverance rover landing on Mars were transmitted back home.
The photo was made public less than a day after the rover touched down near an ancient river delta, where it will search for signs of ancient life.
The full images – and, for the first time, audio – are still being sent back to Earth and processed by the space agency, but the initial landing shot shows the rover just two metres off the ground, being lowered by cables attached to an overhead crane.
“This is something that we’ve never seen before,” flight system engineer Aaron Stehura said at a news conference. “It was stunning, and the team was awestruck. There’s just a feeling of victory that we were able to capture these and share it with the world.”
Chief engineer Adam Steltzner called the picture “iconic”, putting it right up there with photos of Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin on the moon, Saturn as seen by Voyager 1, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s “pillars of creation” shot.
A number of thumbnail images have been beamed down so far, too many to count, said Pauline Hwang, strategic mission manager for surface operations.
“The team went wild” at seeing these first pictures, she said.
“We were just kind of like on cloud nine … this weird dreamlike state, we can’t actually believe this is what we’re seeing,” she said.
The spacecraft is healthy, according to officials, after landing on a flat, safe surface in Jezero Crater with just 1 degree of tilt and relatively small rocks nearby. For now, the systems still are being checked. It will be at least a week before the rover starts driving.
Additional reporting by AP