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NASA Rover 'Perseverance' Lands On Mars With MIT Experiment On Board

BOSTON (CBS) – A nearly 300 million mile journey came to an end as NASA's "Perseverance" successfully landed on Mars with technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on board.

The riskiest part of the mission, the landing, took take place Thursday afternoon. A picture of the surface of Mars was shared on the rover's Twitter account.

"It is really hard to wrap your brain around humanity being able to send something to Mars," said MIT Professor Dr. Tanja Bosak.

NASA engineers called the landing "seven minutes of terror." The rover plummeted to Mars, enduring temperatures over 2,000 degrees.

"All the way from the software to the hardware working, there's so many things happening in these seven minutes," Gregory Villar from the NASA jet propulsion laboratory said. "That's why it's so nerve-racking and so we're all gonna be glued to our seats just hoping for the best."

The car-sized robotic space craft will explore a crater on Mars that once may have hosted a river delta flooded with water.

On board the rover is an experiment from researchers at MIT called "Moxie," which will suck in the carbon dioxide air and convert it into oxygen. If it works, MIT scientists say Moxie will demonstrate a viable path to producing oxygen and future human exploration of Mars.

Dr. Jeff Hoffman is a former astronaut, making five trips into space in the 80s and 90s. His latest mission is working with the team from MIT.

"We are going to demonstrate how to make oxygen on the surface of mars," Hoffman said. "We are going to need a lot of oxygen for human missions, not just to breathe but for the rocket that is going to take them back to earth. We want to learn how to produce that on the surface of Mars and that's what Moxie is going to demonstrate for the first time."

The rover will search for signs of long dead microscopic organisms by drilling into the ground and collecting rock and dust samples.

"The Mars sample return project, of course, is probably the most challenging thing we've ever attempted within NASA," Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance deputy project manager, said. "We are hoping to learn if life ever existed in the ancient past on Mars."

NASA hopes to return to earth those samples to Earth to study.

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