An hour after NASA's Perseverance rover nailed an epic landing on Mars, the agency's acting chief Steve Jurczyk got a surprise phone call from the president of the United States.
"His first words were 'Congratulations, man,' and I knew it was him," Jurczyk said of the call from President Joe Biden today (Feb. 18). "He talked about how proud he was of what we had accomplished."
Jurczyk was at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California — home to Perseverance's mission operations center — when he got the call from Biden. The rover's successful landing in the vast Jezero Crater was announced at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT) after a harrowing skycrane landing.
Related: Here's the 1st photo from NASA's Perseverance rover!
Live updates: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission
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Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance’s historic landing possible. Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. pic.twitter.com/NzSxW6nw4kFebruary 18, 2021
Biden, Jurczyk said, asked the acting NASA chief to "send his regards to Percy." He hopes to congratulate the entire mission team in person soon, possibly next week, Jurczyk added. But Biden didn't wait long to let the world know how he felt.
"Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance's historic landing possible," Biden wrote in a Twitter statement about two hours after landing, which included a photo showing Biden watching the landing on television at the White House. "Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility."
Vice President Kamala Harris also sent her congratulations to NASA and the Perseverance rover team.
"Congrats to @NASA and all of their partners on their successful mission," Harris wrote on Twitter. "Today's historic landing embodies our nation's spirit of perseverance — building on past accomplishments and paving the way for future missions."
Congrats to @NASA and all of their partners on their successful mission. Today's historic landing embodies our nation’s spirit of perseverance—building on past accomplishments and paving the way for future missions.February 18, 2021
Former President Barack Obama echoed Biden's sentiments in his own statement. NASA kicked off the Perseverance rover mission, then known only as Mars 2020, in 2012 during Obama's first presidential term.
"Congrats to @NASAJPL on landing @MarsPersevere today!" Obama wrote on Twitter. "Looking forward to seeing what this mission uncovers — and proud our administration invested in this effort eight years ago to help continue America's rich tradition of exploration and discovery."
By all accounts, Perseverance is doing well on Mars.
The rover touched down on a flat spot inside Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) region on the western edge of a vast impact basin called Isidis Planitia a bit north of Mars' equator. While Perseverance has beamed its first Mars photos to Earth, the black-and-white navigation camera images will soon be eclipsed by more powerful (and color) cameras in the days ahead.
Congrats to @NASAJPL on landing @MarsPersevere today! Looking forward to seeing what this mission uncovers—and proud our administration invested in this effort eight years ago to help continue America’s rich tradition of exploration and discovery.February 18, 2021
Over the next few days, the nuclear-powered rover is expected to raise its camera mast, unfold its robotic arm and begin a shakedown period to ensure all of its systems are working as planned.
The 1-ton rover is designed to spend years exploring Jezero Crater — which was a vast lake billions of years ago — to search for signs of ancient life and, in a first, collect samples of Mars that will be returned to Earth on a later mission. The rover is also carrying Ingenuity, the first helicopter ever sent to another world, and an experiment called MOXIE that will attempt to make oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
Jurczyk said Perseverance's touchdown marked NASA's ninth successful landing on the Red Planet, an unprecedented number for any country. The landing also occurred during a global pandemic that prevented much of the Perseverance mission team from working together in person over the last year.
"I could not be more proud of the team and what they've done, what they've accomplished, under challenging circumstances," Jurczyk said.
Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.