Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Perseverance Mars Rover is now just over three weeks from completing its seven-month, 292.5-million-mile journey to the Red Planet, culminating with “seven minutes of harrowing descent” before touching down on the surface, according to JPL.
The SUV-sized rover was hurtling toward Mars at 1.6 miles per second, the institution said in a written statement.
But like its precursor, the Curiosity rover, the final leg of Perseverance’s trip will be the most exciting, and risky, experts explained.
“Once at the top of the Red Planet’s atmosphere, an action-packed seven minutes of descent awaits — complete with temperatures equivalent to the surface of the Sun, a supersonic parachute inflation, and the first-ever autonomous guided landing on Mars,” according to the statement.
“Only then can the rover — the biggest, heaviest, cleanest, and most sophisticated six-wheeled robotic geologist ever launched into space — search Jezero Crater for signs of ancient life and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth,” it said.
The team responsible for the spacecraft has been eagerly awaiting the landing, said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech.
“Perseverance’s sophisticated science instruments will not only help in the hunt for fossilized microbial life, but also expand our knowledge of Martian geology and its past, present, and future,” Farley said. “Our science team has been busy planning how best to work with what we anticipate will be a firehose of cutting-edge data. That’s the kind of ‘problem’ we are looking forward to.”
NASA Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbin said the mission will continue the tradition of Mars exploration first started by NASA in July of 1965 with Mariner 4 flybys.
“Perseverance, which was built from the collective knowledge gleaned from such trailblazers, has the opportunity to not only expand our knowledge of the Red Planet, but to investigate one of the most important and exciting questions of humanity about the origin of life both on Earth and also on other planets,” Zurbin said.
More information on the Perseverance Rover can be found online at jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020-perseverance-rover.