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Now the search for life on Mars begins in earnest. After a seven-month, 292-million-mile journey, NASA’s fastest and best-equipped rover ever—Perseverance—touched down safely Thursday on the red planet, NASA officials said.

The $2.7 billion rover landed in an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater at about 3:55 p.m. EST on Thursday, the jubilant officials said.

The two-year Perseverance mission is the latest and most ambitious effort by NASA to find evidence of past life on Mars. The 1-ton, SUV-size rover will spend the next two years prospecting for evidence of ancient microbes. It will pack up any promising soil or rock samples into small tubes, to be cached for retrieval by future missions and brought back to Earth for analysis.

“Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars,” Swati Mohan, guidance, navigation and controls operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said as the mission control room around her erupted in cheers, whistles and applause.

Bristling with 23 cameras, sensors, a laser and a drill-equipped robotic arm, Perseverance will spend the next two years prospecting for rock or soil specimens that might harbor evidence of ancient life.

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