The successful landing of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) science rover Perseverance on Mars marks yet another milestone in the human ability to make the scientific mind prevail over inert matter. Befitting the interplanetary dimensions of the mission, every detail of its journey is epic. The robotic vehicle, the largest and most advanced rover that Nasa has sent to another world, travelled through space for nearly seven months, covering 472 million km before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 19,000kmh to begin its approach to touch down on the planet's surface. The primary aim of Perseverance is to search for signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars about three billion years ago, when the planet was potentially hospitable to life. In the words of acting Nasa administrator Steve Jurczyk, the touchdown represents a pivotal moment "when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks".
In particular, Perseverance will help to expand the frontiers of astrobiology as the rover searches for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. All this would have constituted a substantial achievement even in normal times. But at a time of global disruption and distress on the medical and economic fronts caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the feat shows man's determination to ensure that the pursuit of science is not compromised by passing exigencies of the moment, no matter how pressing they are, and that important pursuits in other key areas need not come to a standstill. It is remarkable that Nasa's scientists pulled this off while practising safe distancing and other protocols that make everyday life inconvenient. The lesson is that there is no excellence without perseverance. Covid-19 will pass. What remains is the human will to prevail against the odds, even in space.