The billionaire technologist, who has long envisioned human travel to the red planet, made the comment on Twitter after NASA posted a video showing its team members celebrating the landing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
NASA tweeted: “Touchdown confirmed. The #CountdownToMars is complete, but the mission is just beginning.” Musk replied: “Congratulations!!”
The mission to Mars launched on July 30 last year from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and spent 203 days on the 293 million mile-long journey. The rover is roughly the size of a car and weighs approximately 2,263-pounds, NASA said.
Now, the rover will endure “several weeks” of testing before launching into its two-year investigation of the planet’s Jezero Crater, just north of the Martian equator. Scientists have determined the crater was filled with water roughly 3.5 billion years ago.
While the primary mission is to probe “rock and sediment” on the lake bed, another part of the mission is hunting for any signs of “ancient microbial life.”
NASA scientists said samples collected by Perseverance will be stored by the rover and could eventually be used to “search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the red planet” in its Mars Sample Return campaign.
“We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental—including that life might have once existed beyond Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator for science at NASA.
On a broader scale, the Perseverance rover mission is a part of the agency’s ongoing “Moon to Mars” approach that also includes the Artemis program, which plans to land the first woman and next man on the surface of Earth’s moon by 2024.
Alongside commercial partners—including SpaceX—NASA says sustainable exploration could be in place by the end of this decade. Knowledge from the missions will be used to send human astronauts to Mars, although exact timescales remain unknown.
As working partners, NASA and SpaceX have a growing relationship.
Last May, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft was used to take NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS), a move described by administrator Jim Bridenstine as being a “new era in human spaceflight.”
In December 2020, Musk said he was “highly confident” that SpaceX will land humans on Mars in “about six years from now.”
SpaceX is now conducting high-altitude test flights on Starship prototypes, a rocket that is pitched by Musk’s company as a “fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
Musk’s desire to send humans to Mars has been voiced publicly for years, including the long-term possibility of creating a human settlement on the planet.
He said in 2016: “The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: Either we’re going to become a multi-planet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going be stuck on one planet until some… extinction event.
Musk added at the time: “For me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option. It’s got to be. We’re going to be a spacefaring civilization.”