HONOLULU (KHON2) — Researchers at the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology watched as NASA rover, Perseverance, made a successful landing on Mars.

The landing was broadcast via livestream for thousands of people to witness.

UH Manoa Volcanologist Sarah Fagents is also a co-investigator on the “Mastcam-Z” camera team on the Mars 2020 Perseverance spacecraft. She said, the moments before the landing were nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.

Fagents said, “They’re the best at what they do, but it’s very hard to land a spacecraft on another planet.”

The rover is now on its way to search for signs of ancient life. The UH team will take part in efforts to track down traces of life through rock research, characterization of the planet’s geology, climate assessments and sediment sample studies for possible return to Earth by a future mission.

“We’re looking primarily for fine-grained sediment which could have encapsulated these biosignatures, these ancient microorganisms,” Fagents said. “So they will be a key target for sampling for potentially bring back to Earth in a later mission.”

UH scientists will be operating the rover for the next two years to search for clues about past life on Mars. The research will mainly be conducted around Jezero Crater, which once contained a lake that scientists think is one of the most ideal places to find evidence of ancient life.

“I’m most excited to get over towards the delta deposits because that’s one of the outcrops, one of the areas, that have the greatest potential for containing sediments that have signs of ancient life in it,” Fagents said. “I can’t wait to see what those deposits look like.”

Fagents said, the rover drives autonomously and uses its own imaging and decision-making skills to avoid obstacles as it drives. The team could spend days parked in one place as it studies the surroundings.

Fagents said, “When we find a good spot to analyze, it takes at least several days to deploy the different instruments and acquire the data. So we can be standing still for a fair number of days before we move on.”

Perseverance is also the first rover that will record sound on Mars. This mission also plans to deploy a drone-like aircraft which could make it the first powered-flight on another plant.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be directly interacting with the surface of another planet, to me that is the most profound thing I can ever imagine doing, so I’m just excited to get roving,” HGIP Graduate Student Francesca Carey added.

The full video of Perseverance’s landing can be viewed here.