NASA's Perseverance rover lands safely on Mars

Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers Thursday as NASA's science rover Perseverance landed successfully on Mars - the first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293 million miles before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour to begin its approach to touchdown on the planet's surface.

Moments after touchdown, Perseverance beamed back its first black-and-white images from the Martian surface, one of them showing the rover's shadow cast on the desolate, rocky landing site.

The spacecraft's self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of maneuvers that NASA dubbed "the seven minutes of terror" stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.

The landing represented the riskiest part of a two-year, $2.7 billion endeavor whose primary aim is to search for possible fossilized signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars some 3 billion years ago.

Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth - the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.

Two subsequent Mars missions are planned to retrieve the samples and return them to NASA in the next decade.