The rover has been traveling through space since its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in late July. When it reaches Mars, endurance will have traveled 292.5 million miles on its journey from Earth.
Perseverance is NASA’s first mission to seek evidence of ancient life on another planet to help answer the big question: Was life ever present on Mars? The rover will explore the Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago, and search for microfossils in the rocks and soil there.
Along with the endurance trip, there is an experiment in flying a helicopter, called Ingenuity, on another planet for the first time.
Here’s what to expect this week.
This is how you look
Unfortunately, we can not see the rover land on the surface of Mars – we are just not there yet, technologically speaking.
During landing coverage, NASA’s mission control team will be able to confirm whether the rover will land safely on Mars’ surface.
“If there is one thing we know, it is that it is never easy to land on Mars,” Marc Etkind, NASA’s Associated Communications Administrator, said in a statement. “But as NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance has an extraordinary technical pedigree and mission team.”
Just a few weeks after landing, if all goes according to plan, cameras and microphones on the spacecraft will show the rover’s perspective for the first time.
Landing on Mars: ‘7 minutes of terror’
If successful, endurance will be NASA’s ninth landing on Mars. First, it must undergo the infamous “seven minutes of terror.”
The one-way time it takes for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is approximately 10.5 minutes, which means that the seven minutes it takes for the spacecraft to land on Mars will occur without any help or intervention from NASA teams on The earth.
The ground crews tell the spacecraft when to begin the EDL (entry, descent and landing), and the spacecraft takes over from there – and mission control begins a painful wait.
This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land and weighs over a ton.
The spacecraft hits the top of Mars’ atmosphere, which moves at 12,000 miles per hour and has to brake to 0 miles per hour seven minutes later when the rover softly lands on the surface.
The spacecraft’s heat shield will withstand maximum warming of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 seconds after entering the atmosphere.
Endurance is aimed at a 28-kilometer-wide ancient lake bottom and river delta, the most challenging location yet for a NASA spacecraft landing on Mars. Instead of being flat and slippery, the small landing site is filled with dunes, steep cliffs, boulders and small craters. The spacecraft has two upgrades – called Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation – to navigate this difficult and dangerous place.
The Range Trigger tells the 70.5-foot parachute when to deploy based on the spacecraft’s position 240 seconds after entering the atmosphere. When the parachute is released, the heat shield is released.
The rover’s Terrain-Relative Navigation works like a second brain, using cameras to take pictures of the earth as it quickly approaches and determines the safest place to land. It can change the landing site by up to 2,000 feet, according to NASA.
The rear shell and parachute are separated after the heat shield is discarded – this will happen when the spacecraft is 2 km above the surface of Mars. Mars landing engines, which include eight retro rockets, will fire to slow the descent from 190 miles per hour to approx. 1.7 miles per hour.
Then the famous sky crane maneuver that landed the curiosity rover will occur. Nylon wires lower the rover 25 feet during the descent phase. After the rover has touched down on the surface of Mars, the wires loosen and the descent phase flies away and lands at a safe distance.
The mission: What the rover will do
Once the rover lands, Perseverance’s two-year mission begins. First, it goes through a “checkout” period to make sure it is ready.
Endurance will search for evidence of ancient life and study Mars’ climate and geology and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth in the 2030s.
For that reason, endurance is also the cleanest machine ever sent to Mars, designed so that it does not contaminate the Mars samples with microbes from Earth that can give a false reading.
The Jezero Crater was chosen as the home of endurance because the pool was billions of years ago the site of a lake and a river delta. Rocks and dirt from this basin could provide fossilized evidence of past microbial life as well as more information about what ancient Mars was like.
“The sophisticated scientific instruments of endurance not only help in the pursuit of fossilized microbial life, but will also expand our knowledge of Mars geology and its past, present and future,” said Ken Farley, project researcher for Mars 2020, in a statement.
The trail Endurance will cross is about 15 miles long, an “epic journey” that will take years, Farley said. What scientists could find out about Mars, however, is worth traveling. To reach its goals, endurance will run a little less than 0.1 miles per hour, three times faster than previous rovers.
Endurance also carries instruments that may help further exploration on Mars in the future, such as MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. This experiment, about the size of a car battery, will try to convert marsh carbon dioxide to oxygen.
Not only could this help NASA scientists learn how to make rocket fuel on Mars, but also oxygen that could be used during future human exploration of the red planet.
Invention, the first helicopter on another planet
Endurance does not travel alone to Mars. Included in the trip is Ingenuity, which will be the first helicopter to fly on another planet.
After landing, the rover also finds a nice, flat surface to drop the Ingenuity helicopter, so it has a place to use as a helicopter plate for its potential five test flights over a 30-day period. This will happen within the first 50 to 90 suns or martian days after the mission.
Once ingenuity is settled on the surface, endurance drives to a safe place at a distance and uses the cameras to see the flight of ingenuity.
Invention weighs only 4 pounds and has four carbon fiber blades, solar cells and batteries.
Mars has an incredibly thin atmosphere, so the design for Ingenuity had to be light, while it included larger and faster rotors than typical helicopters on Earth to get it up in the air.
If Ingenuity is successful, it could pave the way for more advanced robotic aircraft to be used on future missions to Mars, both robotic and human, according to NASA.
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