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President Biden hails successful Mars landing of NASA's Perseverance rover

 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

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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."

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk receives a call from US President Joe Biden at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) following the successful Mars 2020 Perseverance rover landing on February 18, 2021 in Pasadena, California.  (Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

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."

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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.

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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 tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.