We’re almost there!
The Perseverance spacecraft will be arriving at Mars this Thursday, February 18th, after having traveled 292.5 million miles from Earth to the Red Planet. That in itself is an extraordinary feat. But then the real challenge begins.
The plan is that at approximately 3:55 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the descent stage of the craft will start the process of entering Martian atmosphere and descending down to the surface of the planet. This is what NASA calls “7 minutes of terror. “
Why is it so terrifying you might wonder?
Well consider this. The craft will enter the atmosphere of Mars at approximately 12,000 miles per hour. It must do so at the proper angle, otherwise the mission could fail right then and there. Once it enters the atmosphere, the craft must slow down in 7 minutes so that it can safely land on the surface without being damaged. It will essentially go from 12,000 mph to zero mph in 7 minutes. Also consider this: it takes radio signals approximately 10.5 minutes to travel from Earth to Mars. The result is that once NASA instructs the craft to begin descent, it will be totally out of NASA’s hands. The spacecraft will be entirely on its own as it conducts a complex series of dangerous procedures to land on the Red Planet. And NASA won’t be able to do a single thing to help it out.
Pretty terrifying when you think about it.
If all goes well, humanity will have sent a craft and landed it on another world. Impressive when you think about it.
Once landed, there will be diagnostics and tests conducted to check things out and see if everything is performing properly. One of the Perseverance rover’s missions will be to find a flat surface onto which to place the miniature helicopter, which is called Ingenuity. The plan is that over a 30-day period, there will be a series of short flights to demonstrate the ability of flying a helicopter on another planet. This will be an amazing accomplishment by itself.
The other primary mission of the Perseverance rover will be to explore its landing site, the Jezero Crater. Billions of years ago, it is believed that an ancient lake and river delta once existed there. Using a variety of instruments, the rover will explore the area learning about its geology and climate as well as searching for potential signs of ancient microbial life. This mission will take years.
If all goes well, the Perseverance mission is going to be a great achievement that expands our knowledge of another world and further explores the question of whether life evolved on places outside our own planet Earth.
I recommend checking out the attached links which go into more detail about the exciting Perseverance mission to Mars.