There’ll Be ‘Seven Minutes Of Terror’ During The Perseverance Mars Landing
But the hardest part of the trip is yet to come, with a daring seven-minute landing awaiting the rover when it arrives in Mars' atmosphere, where there is zero margin for error.
The landing process is notoriously tricky, and is often referred to as 'seven minutes of terror' - not only because of the intricate sequence involved, but also because radio signals take so long to reach Earth that, by the time they've reached us, the landing has already happened.
Matt Wallace, NASA's Deputy Project Manager for Perseverance, said the landing is always a 'challenging feat'.
According to the BBC, Wallace said: "This is one of the most difficult manoeuvres we do in the space business. Almost 50 percent of the spacecraft sent to the surface of Mars have failed, so we know we have our work cut out to get down safely at Jezero."
In a 2012 video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, EDL Engineer Adam Steltzner explained how the delay in signals reaching Earth also poses a huge problem.
"From the top of the atmosphere down to the surface it takes us seven minutes," he said.
"It takes 14 minutes or so for the signal from the spacecraft to make it to Earth - that's how far Mars is away from us - so when we first get word that we've touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been live or dead on the surface for at least seven minutes."
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"That descent stage takes us all the way down to about 20 meters off the ground. That's when we start the skycrane maneuver."
Tomorrow is our @NASAPersevere rover's entry, descent and landing on Mars. Get ready: https://t.co/Y0O9T1rDov pic.twitter.com/jmC7dIiwQ0
- NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
Perseverance is due to make contact with the atmosphere at 8.48pm GMT before its wheels hit the surface at 8.55pm.
According to NASA, the car-sized rover will be 'paving the way for human exploration beyond the Moon', and is focused on astrobiology - or the study of life - throughout the universe.
The space agency said: "Perseverance is tasked with searching for tell-tale signs that microbial life may have lived on Mars billions of years ago.
"It will collect rock core samples in metal tubes, and future missions would return these samples to Earth for deeper study."
The Perseverance will land at the Jezero Crater, where scientists believe they might find the evidence they're after.
Ken Williford, Deputy Project Scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "We expect the best places to look for biosignatures would be in Jezero's lakebed or in shoreline sediments that could be encrusted with carbonate minerals, which are especially good at preserving certain kinds of fossilized life on Earth.
"But as we search for evidence of ancient microbes on an ancient alien world, it's important to keep an open mind."
Featured Image Credit: PA
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