Nasa scientists on Friday presented striking early images from the picture-perfect landing of the Mars rover Perseverance, including a selfie of the six-wheeled vehicle dangling just above the surface of the Red Planet moments before touchdown. The color photograph, likely to become an instant classic among memorable images from the history of spaceflight, was snapped by a camera mounted on the rocket-powered "sky crane" descent-stage just above the rover as the car-sized space vehicle was being lowered on Thursday to Martian soil. The image was unveiled by mission managers during an online news briefing webcast from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles less than 24 hours after the landing. The rover was gently planted on its wheels, its tethers were severed, and the sky crane - its job completed - flew off to crash a safe distance away, though not before photos and other data collected during the descent were transmitted to the rover for safekeeping.The image of the dangling science lab, striking for its clarity and sense of motion, marks the first such close-up photo of a spacecraft landing on Mars, or any planet beyond Earth. The image was taken at the very end of the so-called "seven-minutes-of-terror" descent sequence that brought Perseverance from the top of Mars' atmosphere, traveling at 12,000 miles per hour, to a gentle touchdown on the floor of a vast basin called the Jezero Crater. The vehicle landed about two kilometers from tall cliffs at the base of a ancient river delta carved into the corner of the crater billions of years ago, when Mars was warmer, wetter and presumably hospitable to life. Scientists say the site is ideal for pursuing Perseverance's primary objective - searching for fossilized traces of microbial life preserved in sediments believed to have been deposited around the delta and the long-vanished lake it once fed. The mission's surface team will spend the coming days and weeks unfastening, unfurling and testing the vehicle's robot arm, communication antennae and other equipment, aligning instruments and upgrading the rover's software, Hwang said. One of Perseverance's tasks before embarking on its search for signs of microbial life will be to deploy a miniature helicopter it carried to Mars for an unprecedented extraterrestrial test flight. But Hwang said that effort was still about two months away.
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