- NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to plunge to Mars and land in an ancient lake bed on February 18.
- The spacecraft must weather a fiery 12,000-mph plunge, deploy a supersonic parachute, and navigate to safety with a jetpack.
- A realistic
NASAanimation shows that nail-biting descent in detail.
NASA’s newest interplanetary robot is about to attempt a heart-pounding feat: landing on Mars.
If it reaches Martian ground in one piece, the Perseverance rover will then set about exploring an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater. When the crater was filled with liquid water billions of years ago, scientists believe it could have nurtured microbial life.
Perseverance will scan rocks and mineral deposits in the area for hints of that potential ancient
But only half the spacecraft that humanity has ever tried to land on Mars have succeeded. To beat the odds, NASA has tucked Perseverance inside a protective capsule, equipping it with a supersonic parachute and a jetpack to slow its fall and carry it to safety.
On February 18, the rover and its
Communicating from Earth to Mars involves an 11-minute delay, so NASA mission controllers won’t be able to troubleshoot in real-time. By the time they receive the signal that Perseverance’s descent has begun, the rover will already be on Mars – dead or alive. The landing system must carry out each step on its own, with impeccable precision.
To illustrate this nail-biting plunge, NASA has published a realistic
Watch each step of the Perseverance rover’s landing
This is how the Mars landing will work, if everything goes right (turn sound on for the full effect):
First, the spacecraft that has carried Perseverance for 300 million miles will release the capsule into the Martian atmosphere. The capsule will plummet to Mars, superheating the material around it to up to 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit. Then it will deploy a 70-foot-wide parachute, slowing its fall to about 150 mph, and drop the “heat shield” panel that plowed through the atmosphere.
This will expose the rover’s underside, giving an open view of the ground below. A computer on the rover will begin assessing data from the robot’s cameras and comparing it to a detailed map of Jezero Crater in order to calculate where exactly it’s flying and find the best place to land.
About a mile above the Martian surface, the capsule will drop the rover, which has a jetpack on its back. The jetpack’s engines will fire up and fly Perseverance to its landing spot. There, the jetpack will slowly lower the rover on 25-foot-long nylon cords until its wheels touch the ground.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that entry, descent, and landing is the most critical and most dangerous part of a mission,” Allen Chen, who leads that process for Perseverance, said in a recent press briefing.
After playing the video, he added, “just looking at it and thinking about landing really gets the blood flowing for me.”