NASA's Mars rover Perseverance lands on Mars, sends back first pictures

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance has successfully landed.

The space agency received confirmation the one-tonne rover survived its descent just before 10am (NZ time), starting its mission to look for signs of life on the red planet.

Releived scientists at NASA's control room broke into applause with confirmation the US$2.7 billion lander was still working after being put onto the Martian surface.

There is about an 11-minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth at present. 

With the Perseverance rover is Ingenuity, a drone helicopter.

It took just minutes for the first images for Perseverance to beam its first image back to Earth.

First image from Perseverance.
First image from Perseverance. Photo credit: NASA

Fewer than half of all attempts to land on Mars to date have been successful. NASA has a good track record though - its only failure, in 1999, happened because of confusion between NASA's metric units and manufacturer Lockheed Martin's imperial. 

Perseverance launched in July last year.

Perseverance is an upgraded version of NASA's 2012 rover Curiosity, which has long outlived its planned two-year mission. 

Curiosity looked at whether its location - the Gale crater - could ever have once supported life. Perseverance will look for signs of life itself in the Jezero Crater, which is believed to once have held a giant lake. 

"This is the first dedicated mission since 1976, when NASA's Viking landers landed to look for life," space expert Matthew Pavletich told The AM Show on Friday, ahead of the landing.

"It's unlikely you'll find life near the surface dirt - the atmospheric pressure on mars is very low, the water is only there a metre, two metres, three metres below the ground. If there is any life on Mars it'll probably be anaerobic bacteria they found some day."

Perseverance will collect samples and store them in sealed containers, to be collected by a follow-up mission. 

Ingenuity's first launch is in about a month, and is expected to fly about three to five metres above the ground up to 50m away from Perseverance. 

While largely just a test and demonstration of the technology, it's hoped Ingenuity will be able to snap images of places Perseverance can't reach and scout out potential new places to explore.