NASA’s Perseverance Rover Mission to Land on Mars on Thursday, February 18
By Vinita Domier
Davis Astronomy Club and NASA Solar System Ambassador
NASA’s 2020 Perseverance Mars Rover is scheduled to arrive at Mars on Thursday, February 18, after traversing 300 million miles in nearly 7 months since its launch on July 30 last year. After entering the Red Planet’s orbit, the robust car-sized rover is scheduled to land inside Mars’ Jezero Crater around 12:55pm. Perseverance is one of three unprecedented international missions to rendezvous with Mars within days of each other.
The Perseverance rover is equipped with a suite of sophisticated scientific instruments and cameras on board to accomplish its four main objectives: look for habitability; seek biosignatures; cache samples; and prepare for humans. It is designed to explore the planet for at least one Mars year which is equivalent to 687 Earth-days.
The rover will “search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past and for signs of past microbial life itself”. The 28-mile wide Jezero site was selected in November 2018 as the landing site because clay minerals deposits were detected in the fan-shaped delta within the crater indicating presence of an ancient lake that could potentially harbor signs of ancient Martian life.
Perseverance rover’s special drill will collect core samples of rocks and soils that will be sealed in tubes and cached on Mars for future robotic or human missions to bring back to Earth for future analysis. The rover’s instruments will also test oxygen production from Martian atmosphere.
Besides the main astrobiology focus of this mission, NASA is also planning to test the first powered flight on Mars. The rover is carrying a small light-weight autonomous helicopter, named Ingenuity, that weighs only 4 pounds and has large 4-feet rotors to let it fly in the very thin Martian air that is only 1% of Earth’s thickness.
Before Perseverance rover can embark on its astrobiology mission on Mars’ surface, the spacecraft bearing it must safely execute entry, descent and landing maneuvers to bring it from12,500 miles per hour to a standstill. During the ‘seven minutes of terror’, the rover will be protected by a heat shield during its rapid descent into Martian atmosphere, slowed down by deploying a parachute, and finally gently lowered wheels-down by a ‘sky-crane’.
The other two missions have successfully arrived in orbit around Mars: United Arab Emirates’ Amal (Hope) orbiter arrived on February 9 on a 2-year mission to remotely study Mars’ weather and atmosphere; and China’s Tianwen-1(Quest for Heavenly Truth) orbiter/lander/rover arrived on February 10 to remotely conduct global survey of Mars and land a rover in May or June for a three-month planet exploration.
The Thursday, February 18 coverage of the NASA Perseverance entering Mars orbit and subsequent landing will be broadcast live on NASA TV and livestreamed at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive and on NASA YouTube and Facebook starting at 11:15am with the landing scheduled at 12:55pm. This will be proceeded by an educational program for students of all ages starting at 9:30am and followed by post-landing briefing starting at 2:30pm.
More details about the NASA’s Mars Perseverance mission available at https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and https://www.nasa.gov/perseverance. For more information, please contact Vinita Domier at firstname.lastname@example.org.