NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to land on Mars Thursday, following a journey that lasted seven months and covered 293 million miles.
If all goes as planned, Perseverance will touch down on Mars around 3:55 p.m. ET. NASA TV will broadcast the craft’s landing.
Perseverance will have to execute a self-guided landing to touch down inside the Jezero Crater – an area that was likely once a river delta created billions of years ago.
The $2.4 billion rover will have to slow from a speed of 12,000 miles per hour as it approaches the red planet, to 1.7 mph as it lands.
According to NASA, Perseverance must deploy a parachute while at supersonic speed and a “sky crane” that is designed to detach from the entry capsule, fly to a safe landing spot and lower the rover to the planet on tethers. The crane will then crash a safe distance away.
It will take seven minutes to complete the touchdown — from 3:48 p.m. to 3:55 p.m. NASA has dubbed the process “seven minutes of terror.”
It takes 11 minutes for signals from Earth to reach the craft, meaning NASA can do nothing to help Perseverance in its landing should the ship encounter a problem.
NASA scientists will follow the progress of Perseverance’s descent by listening for simple tones from the craft.
“We can use those tones to tell us different things, like the heat shield has come off or something like that,” Allen Chen, the lead engineer for the landing part of the mission, said during a news conference on Wednesday.
NASA will be listening for tones because the craft’s main antenna will not be pointing at Earth during its trip to the surface. Once Perseverance has landed, transmissions from the craft will be relayed from satellites in orbit around Mars.
The rover will be landing at a place where the average temperature is 80 degrees below zero.
Perseverance’s primary mission is to search for signs of microbes on Mars. The rover will collect rocks from the planet in hopes of finding embedded “biosignatures.” Other missions will bring the rocks back to Earth to study.
Perseverance will also carry a miniature helicopter which NASA will use to test the first controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.
The craft also has more cameras than any interplanetary mission in history, according to NASA, with 19 cameras on the rover itself and four on other parts of the spacecraft involved in entry, descent and landing.
Cox Media Group