NASA's Perseverance Mars rover just fired up its deep-space thrusters for the first time.
Perseverance, the centerpiece of NASA's $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, refined its course toward the Red Planet with a trajectory-correction maneuver on Friday (Aug. 14), 15 days after the life-hunting rover lifted off.
The maneuver, which employed eight thrusters on Perseverance's cruise stage — the vehicle that carries the rover through deep space — was a success, mission team members announced via Twitter on Friday.
My first planned Trajectory Correction Maneuver was a success. I do TCMs on my journey to stay on target for a Feb. 18, 2021 date with Mars. I left Earth over 2 weeks ago and already put on 27+ million miles. Only ~265 million more to go! #CountdownToMars https://t.co/1PJU9YwxvJ pic.twitter.com/wdvVPHqPvJAugust 15, 2020
Perseverance's mission plan calls for five trajectory-correction maneuvers to set the rover up for its pinpoint landing inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The four remaining engine burns are scheduled to take place on Sept. 28, Dec. 20, Feb. 10 and Feb. 16. (There's also a backup opportunity on Feb. 17 if needed, and a final "contingency" window on Feb. 18, just nine hours before touchdown.)
Perseverance launched July 30 on a mission to seek out signs of ancient Mars life inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which hosted a lake and river delta in the ancient past. The rover will also collect and cache samples for future return to Earth, potentially as early as 2031.
Mars 2020 will test out new exploration technologies as well. For example, a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity is traveling to the Red Planet on the rover's belly and will attempt the first-ever rotorcraft flight on a world beyond Earth.
Additionally, one of Perseverance's instruments, called MOXIE (short for "Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment"), will generate oxygen from the carbon dioxide-dominated Martian atmosphere. A scaled-up version of MOXIE could one day help human pioneers get a foothold on Mars, NASA officials have said. (The agency aims to put boots on the Red Planet in the 2030s.)
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.