While it might have been easy to miss with all of the disastrous news flooding the MSM these days, there’s something big about to happen on another planet. The Mars Perseverance rover will be attempting what the space agency describes as “the hardest landing” they’ve ever tried. The touchdown is expected to take place at approximately 3:55 eastern or 12:55 pacific time. NASA is pulling out all the stops in terms of getting the public involved with this event. They will be running science specials all day on each of their media platforms as well as their own television channel, NASA TV. If your network doesn’t carry it, probably the easiest way to follow along is on their YouTube channel. There will be a separate feed dedicated specifically to the landing going live later today. With that many people watching, now they just need to make sure that it doesn’t crash. (More on that in a moment)
NASA is inviting the public to take part in virtual activities and events as the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover nears entry, descent, and landing on the Red Planet, with touchdown scheduled for approximately 3:55 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 18.
Live coverage and landing commentary from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California will begin at 2:15 p.m. on the NASA TV Public Channel and the agency’s website, as well as the NASA App, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, and THETA.TV.
Among the many firsts with this mission is the agency’s first-ever Spanish-language show for a planetary landing. On Thursday, Feb. 18, at 2:30 p.m., NASA will air “Juntos perseveramos,” a show that will give viewers an overview of the mission to Mars and highlight the role Hispanic NASA professionals have had in its success.
This project has been ten years in the making and has cost billions of dollars. Today, it all comes down to “seven minutes of terror,” as NASA engineers like to say. The atmospheric entry and landing is happening in multiple stages, each one of which has to be executed perfectly. There are no do-overs in this game and the margin of error is almost nonexistent.
Perseverance will be traveling at 12,000 miles per hour when it plows into the thin Martian atmosphere and will only have a limited time to slow to a crawl for a soft landing. NASA will attempt this by first deploying a massive parachute to slow the craft considerably. In stage two, multiple jets will fire up underneath the craft to slow the descent even further. Then a short distance above the surface, a “sky crane” will detach the rover and lower it to the landing spot on three steel cables.
The real kicker is that all of this is being done automatically. Due to the signal lag between the Earth and Mars (a minimum of five minutes, even when Mars is at its closest to Earth), NASA can’t monitor what’s going on in real-time and make any corrections. Once Perseverance hits the atmosphere and the program is initiated, it’s on its own. It will be a successful landing or bust… literally.
The landing site is named Jezero Crater. It’s an ancient lake bed that was once filled with water billions of years ago. Perseverance will be taking soil samples and conducting tests intended to detect remnants of possible microbial life. Or (and here’s the real kicker) potentially current microbial life under the surface. But nobody wants to get their hopes up for that too much at this stage. The samples are expected to be returned to Earth by a future mission roughly ten years from now.
The last fun fact is that Perseverance has a miniature helicopter onboard. The Ingenuity Mars helicopter will act as a scout for Perseverance, mapping the terrain ahead as it navigates across the landscape. If successful, Ingenuity will be the first human-built aircraft to ever fly on another planet. It’s all pretty cool. But keep your fingers crossed, because this landing is hardly a sure thing.