The NASA Perseverance rover on Thursday will complete its 292.5 million-mile trek to land on Mars at approximately 3:55 p.m. EST.
The trip began in July with the rover also transporting a helicopter called Ingenuity as part of an experiment to fly a helicopter on another planet for the first time.
Perseverance is NASA’s first mission that will look for evidence of past life on another planet.
According to CNN, the rover is set to explore Jezero Crater, which is the location “of an ancient lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago, and search for microfossils in the rocks and soil there.” Future “follow-up missions” plan to return samples from the site to Earth that will be collected by the rover.
Perseverance seeks to be NASA’s ninth landing on the Red Planet, and the agency’s fifth rover to do so. First, it has to reportedly experience the “seven minutes of terror,” infamous for Mars landings.
The one-way travel time it takes for a radio signal from Earth to reach Mars is around 11 minutes, which means the seven minutes it takes for the landing to occur must happen without any assistance from NASA teams back on Earth.
The ground teams tell the spacecraft when to begin EDL (entry, descent and landing) and the spacecraft takes over from there — and mission control begins an agonizing wait.
This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land, weighing in at over a metric ton.
The spacecraft hits the top of the Martian atmosphere moving at 12,000 miles per hour and has to slow down to 1.7 miles per hour seven minutes later when the rover softly lands on the surface.
Perseverance is heading for a 28-mile-wide bed of an ancient lake and a river delta, which is the most difficult area yet for a NASA spacecraft to land on Mars. The surface is not flat and smooth, but rather is “littered with sand dunes, steep cliffs, boulders, and small craters. The spacecraft has two upgrades…to navigate this difficult and hazardous site.”
Once the extensive landing is completed, the rover begins its two-year mission. Included in its tasks are dropping the helicopter, Ingenuity, on the surface of Mars and rolling away from it, which will take about 10 days. After surviving the cold nights on the planet, keeping itself warm and charged through the use of solar panels, the four-pound helicopter will be ready for its first flight that will last about 20 seconds.
MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said, “The Ingenuity team will be on the edge of our seats with the Perseverance team on landing day … . We can’t wait until the rover and the helicopter are both safely on the surface of Mars and ready for action.”
There is no ability to watch the physical landing “live,” but NASA is inviting the global audience to check out its countdown and landing commentary, which will stream live beginning on Thursday at 2:15 p.m. EST.
NASA’s mission control team will confirm if the rover was able to land safely on Mars during the coverage.
Viewers can tune in via NASA’s public TV channel, website, app, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion or THETA.TV. In a first, the agency will also offer a Spanish language show for the landing.
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