CHICAGO, Illinois — The entire planet is about to witness another history-making event in space.
Thursday afternoon, NASA’s Perseverance rover will touch down on Mars.
Perseverance launched from Earth on July 30th, 2020. The rover is headed straight for Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient river delta.
It’s engineered to touch down Thursday afternoon using a supersonic parachute to slow its speed. It deploys about seven miles above the surface at more than 900 miles an hour.
The decent lasts about seven minutes. It's known as the "seven minutes of terror" because it’s so distressing to the spacecraft and Mars is millions of miles away.
The signal there doesn’t reach Earth for about 700 seconds, meaning if things go wrong, we won’t know for 11 minutes.
Using a jetpack system it slowly makes its way to the surface descending at just under 2 MPH. It’s the first ever autonomous guided landing on the ‘Red Planet’.
After nearly seven months of space travel it all comes down to this.
Landing will not be easy as NASA picked one of the hardest areas to explore.
“The most difficult areas to land in are often the most geologically interesting,” said Michelle Nichols, Director of Public Observing at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
“So, it’ll be within a certain landing area but even within that area there will be places that might have steep slopes or boulders or something, and so the rover has the ability to kinda help pick and choose a slightly safer place to go. So, once it lands in the safe place, it can drive over later to the maybe slightly challenging locations that it might not be able to land on, said Nichols.
Adler is hosting an online watch party Thursday along with a life-sized rover and a Q&A.
The building is even glowing for the ‘Countdown to Mars’. Lit up in red all week, it’s celebrating the engineering and math it took to get there.
“The launch is not… a straight line, it’s a curved path. So, essentially you’re launching a spacecraft from Earth to be able to follow a curved path about 300 million miles long so that you’re meeting up with Mars. Not only are you meeting up with Mars, you’re meeting up with a specific six-mile circle on Mars,” explained Nichols.
Perseverance will stay on the planet for one Mars year, about 687 days here on Earth.
Its mission is to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. Those will hopefully return to Earth on a future mission for testing.
Tagging along is the ‘Ingenuity Helicopter’ weighing only four pounds. It’s the first chopper attempting to fly on another planet. It’s not designed to support the mission, but solely test the new technology.
Other countries like France and Spain contributed to the project. The mission is one for all humanity.
“So, this isn’t just a NASA effort and there’s scientists from all over the world who will want the data from this mission,” said Nichols. “So yes, humanity is going to mars.”
Perseverance is scheduled to land Thursday afternoon around 3:55 PM EST.
Adler's live watch party on its YouTube page runs from 2PM-4PM EST.
MORE: NASA's Mission to Mars