When NASA successfully touched down its Perseverance rover Thursday at the Jezero Crater on Mars, cheers erupted at the agency's control room. But they also erupted in a small village in western Bosnia that shares the same name as the landing site on the red planet.
"It is the most fascinating and unique experience for us," Aleksandar Tomic, a student in Jezero village, told ABC News. "The mighty Perseverance rover landing in a crater on the red planet that owes its name to our town. Wow!"
The some 1,300 residents of the earthly Jezero watched the landing with excitement and affection, feeling as if they were a part of NASA's most ambitious deep space mission yet. Younger residents convened to watch the landing live on a video screen in a modest school gym. Prior to Perseverance's touchdown, the young villagers celebrated the scientific achievement with an "Earth vs. Mars" volleyball match in the same gym -- which Team Mars won.
"We all feel a part of something that's much bigger than ourselves and our world," Nedeljko Sokolovic, a Jezero farmer, told ABC News.
Jezero Mayor Snezana Ruzicic echoed the joyful sentiments.
"I had two sleepless nights, one pre-landing and then one post-touchdown," Ruzicic told ABC News. "This was so emotional for us and it was pure happiness to see Perseverance land safely, and all the great attention and honor that was given to our little Jezero, a municipality on Earth that has given its name to a crater on Mars."
The International Astronomical Union named Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient Martian lake, in 2007. The 28-mile long crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator, according to NASA.
The Martian crater was once home to an ancient river delta, scientists believe, making it the ideal place to look for ancient microbial life that may have been preserved from the water and sediments that once flowed into the crater.
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, described the Jezero Crater as "the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing" in a statement ahead of the arrival.
Despite the challenges, NASA still chose to land its most-advanced rover yet at Jezero Crater because of its geological riches and other factors that make it the prime location to search for signatures of past life on Mars. NASA said Perseverance should be able to access rocks at Jezero Crater that are as old as 3.6 billion years.
"Also, the relief similarity between our small town of Jezero and the crater of the same name on Mars is great, because it once also had a river-fed lake like we do," Ruzicic said.
Jezero, which means "lake" in many Slavic languages, was chosen from a shortlist of approximately 80 name suggestions.
U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Eric Nelson delivered a letter from NASA to the mayor of Jezero in September 2019 in recognition of the connection between the crater and her municipality.
"It takes an international team of experts to create and support a mission with the complexity and ambition of Mars 2020. I am proud that we can now include the citizens of Jezero, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as honorary members of the 2020 team," James Watzin, NASA's director of Mars Exploration, wrote in the letter. "Together we will explore one of the most scientifically captivating as well as serene locations on Mars."
Ruzicic recalls receiving the message, saying, "I thought it was fake news."
Neven Sokolovic, a father of two school-age children in Jezero village, said NASA has brought "countless" benefits to the community.
"NASA's explorer program has inspired so much enthusiasm for science among students here," Sokolovic told ABC News.
The mayor said there's now a push among the community's youth to build a NASA science center in Jezero for students in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"We also want to make a replica of Perseverance spacecraft, right here at our valley adjacent to the beautiful, river-fed Pivsko Lake," Ruzicic told ABC News.
The residents of Jezero municipality, one of the smallest and poorest in Bosnia, expressed hope that having its name attached to NASA's mission could soon bring new benefits and visitors to their own small patch of the cosmos.
"You will see, one day it will be harder to obtain a piece of land in Jezero on Earth than on Jezero on Mars," Ruzicic said with a smile.