After traveling millions of kilometers in space, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is set to land the agency’s fifth robot on the Red Planet Thursday to find signs of past life there.
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is managed, have confirmed that the Rovers spacecraft is healthy and on target to touch down in Jezero Crater at around 3:55 p.m. EST.
The six-wheeled robot is fast approaching Mars after a 470 million kilometers long journey from Earth that started six-and-a-half months ago.
NASA said that a variety of factors can affect the precise timing of the spacecraft’s entry, descent, and landing. They include unpredictable properties of the Martian atmosphere and the complexity of deep-space communications.
The riskiest portion of the rover’s mission that some engineers call the “seven minutes of terror” will be broadcast live on NASA TV from 2:15 p.m. EST.
Only about 50 percent of all previous Mars landing attempts have been successful.
“Perseverance is NASA’s most ambitious Mars rover mission yet, focused scientifically on finding out whether there was ever any life on Mars in the past,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “To answer this question, the landing team will have its hands full getting us to Jezero Crater – the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing,” he added.
A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and sediment for later return to Earth.
3.5 billion years ago, Jezero Crater was the site of a large lake, complete with its own river delta. Mars 2020 mission scientists believe that while the water may be long gone, somewhere within the 28-mile-wide crater, evidence that life once existed there could be waiting.
Once on the surface, one of Perseverance’s first activities will be to take pictures of its new home using the rover’s suite of cameras, especially Mastcam-Z, and transmit them back to Earth. Over the following days, engineers will also check on the health of the rover and deploy the remote sensing mast, so it can take more pictures.
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect the sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
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