Mars rover landing: NASA readies for ‘seven minutes of terror’ with Perseverance this week

NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars in animation

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NASA’s Mars rover is rapidly approaching the end of its near seven-month journey to the Red Planet. After launching in July 2020, the car-sized rover has already covered more than 288 million miles, flying at 60 times the speed of sound. Perseverance will arrive at Mars just days after the UAE’s probe Hope and China’s Tianwen-1 entered the planet’s orbit.

NASA’s Mars rover is scheduled to land on Mars this Thursday, February 18.

Perseverance will dive into the paper-thin atmosphere at more than 12,000mph before a parachute and engine burn slows it down to about 2mph.

A large sky crane will then winch Perseverance to the ground and the descent platform will then fly off to crash a safe distance away from the rover.

NASA refers to this nailbiting landing sequence as the “seven minutes of terror”

The rover should touch down by 9.55pm GMT (3.55pm EST) although NASA will likely not know whether Perseverance survived the descent for a while after the landing.

Because of the distance between Earth and Mars – more than 120 million miles – any signal the rover beams back to Earth will take about 11 minutes to reach us.

In other words, by the time we receive the first message Perseverance sends when it enters the atmosphere, the rover will have already landed.

Al Chen, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said: “Success is never assured. And that’s especially true when trying to land the biggest, heaviest and most complicate rover, we’ve ever built to the most dangerous site we’ve ever attempted to land at.”

Perseverance is NASA’s fifth and most sophisticated rover to date.

The £1.94billion ($2.7billion) machine is preceded by the Sojourner, Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity rovers.

Curiosity is the only one of the bunch that is still operational and making its way across the Red Planet.

The rover served as a design foundation for Perseverance, having proven its merit after nearly 10 years of Mars exploration.

Marc Etkind, NASA’s associate administrator for communications, said: “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that landing on Mars is never easy.

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“But as NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance has an extraordinary engineering pedigree and mission team.

“We are excited to invite the entire world to share this exciting event with us.”

Perseverance will land in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater – a geographic formation believed to once hold water.

Jezero Crater is the perfect site to search for evidence of alien life, both past and present.

Perseverance’s primary goal, unlike past mission to Mars, is to search for evidence of life.

Scientists believe Mars once resembled a young Earth with a hot and humid climate and that could mean simple, microbial life was present millions of years ago.

The rover will also collect rock and soil samples it will store in secure tubes for future collection.

A follow-up mission is being drafted to retrieve the samples.

If successful, it will mark the first time scientists will have pristine samples of Mars rock to study, straight from the Red Planet itself.

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