Perseverance Probe Set for Thursday Landing on Mars

Brenda Watkins
February 19, 2021

Perseverance is full of firsts. The spacecraft will take photos and try to find evidence of ancient life as well as study the climate and geology.

This will attempt the first-ever controlled flight of an aircraft on the surface of another planet. The first recordings of sound on the red planet.

The helicopter project will definitely be novel, but it's not just about recording a first for the sake of NASA being able to say they did it; Ingenuity will hopefully lay a firm technical foundation for future exploration.

Along for the ride with Perseverance is an experiment to fly a helicopter, called Ingenuity, on another planet for the first time.

That means the rover is already on the surface, but it is not yet known whether it crashed or landed successfully.

This handout file illustration obtained March 5, 2020, courtesy of NASA shows the Mars rover Perseverence. At the time, all eyes were glued to what is euphemistically referred to as the "seven minutes of terror".

It will be a complex endeavour involving a second rover, a Mars rocket and a huge satellite to ship the Jezero materials home.

"This is one of the most hard maneuvers we make in the space business", Matt Wallace, deputy project manager of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, told reporters on Wednesday.

It begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, travelling at almost 12,500 miles per hour and ends about seven minutes later, with Perseverance stationary on the planet's surface. Within one minute, the friction caused by that atmosphere caused the temperature on the heat shield to rise to 1,300ºC (2,370ºF).

Perseverance is set to land near an ancient river delta that once flowed into the basin. Rather than being flat and smooth, the small landing site is littered with sand dunes, steep cliffs, boulders and small craters.

Artwork of rocket cradle

NASA has nailed eight of nine landing attempts, making the US the only country to achieve a successful touchdown. For more information about virtual landing livestreams, including details on a special livestream for students at 12:30 p.m. EST (9:30 a.m. PST), visit the mission's watch online page. Two minutes later, when the spacecraft was 2 km above the ground, the parachute separated and Perseverance went into a brief free-fall-and here, some imaginative engineering took over.

It's engineered to touch down Thursday afternoon using a supersonic parachute to slow its speed. Then came Spirit and Opportunity, which landed in 2004. Nylon cords lowered the rover 25 feet below the descent stage.

Larger and packed with more instruments than the four Mars rovers preceding it, the latest mobile robotic probe would build on previous discoveries that the fourth planet from the sun was once warmer, wetter and possibly hospitable to life.

"There's been a lot of work done to really assess how the instruments are going to work together and determining what minerals are present and what minerals are the most interesting ones to sample", he said.

Two future missions are planned to retrieve the samples and return them to NASA in the next decade. Here's what you'll want to know about the Perseverance rover and why it's our best bet yet for finding evidence.

Teams on Earth will go through a month of inspections, software downloads and preparations for roving. The links to Earth are made via the rover and Mars orbiters. Qualcomm's flight platform is a multifunctional chip used for drones and robots.

"What the JPL and NASA teams have done today is nothing short of extraordinary", Singer said. "We can't wait until the rover and the helicopter are both safely on the surface of Mars and ready for action".

Its mission is to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. What scientists could discover about Mars, though, is worth the journey.

Perseverance and Curiosity, more than 1,200 miles apart, will operate in a network to compare atmospheric conditions occurring at the same moment, similar to how weather stations operate on Earth.

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