SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — NASA made history Thursday when its most advanced Mars rover landed successfully on the red planet to begin a mission to find signs of ancient life.

“They’re not looking for little green men or women, they’re looking for microbial life,” said Exploratorium dducator Ron Hipschman. “Mars probably wasn’t life-giving long enough to form advanced life.”

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After a seven-month journey through space, the Perseverance rover approached Mars at a speed of 12,000 miles per hour. Its heat shield, which was developed in the Bay Area, protected Perseverance from scorching temperatures as hot as molten lava.

“NASA Ames actually invented and developed the heat shield material, which is called Pika,” said NASA entry system manager Dr. Helen Hwang. “We actually tested the material at NASA Ames.”

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After its successful touchdown at Jezero, a large Mars crater once filled with water, the rover sent back pictures of the surface.

“That lake would have been as big as Lake Tahoe so it’s a huge crater,” Hipschman explained.

The now dried-up lake is where there is the highest likelihood of finding evidence of a prehistoric life, perhaps in some physical form, such as a fossils, that a future mission may return to earth.

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“Perseverance is going to leave the samples that it drills on the surface of Mars for a later mission, the Mars sample-return mission and then send them back to earth,” Hipschman said. “(It’s) very impressive.”