After months of sailing through space, NASA’s Perseverance rover will make its dramatic descent to Mars later this week. This will be another milestone moment for the space agency for a number of reasons, including the first use of an autonomous guided landing on Mars. NASA previously teased us with an animated sequence of the landing, but soon you’ll be able to watch it happen live.
When is Perseverance landing?
Perseverance will reach Mars on February 18, kicking off a nail-biting sequence that — assuming nothing goes wrong — will make the spacecraft NASA’s latest rover on the Martian surface. The space agency is targeting its rover at Jezero Crater.
This rover will join the Curiosity rover, but with a different mission in mind. Whereas the older rover has been investigating the Red Planet’s ancient history, particularly when it lost its water and became a frigid desert, Perseverance will look for evidence of past life. NASA explains:
Jezero Crater is the perfect place to search for signs of ancient microbial life. Billions of years ago, the now-bone-dry 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) basin was home to an actively-forming river delta and lake filled with water. The rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) that Perseverance’s Sample Caching System collects from Jezero could help answer fundamental questions about the existence of life beyond Earth.
The Mars samples collected by Perseverance will be picked up by a future mission and brought to Earth.
NASA details dramatic landing
As you’d expect, the Perseverance rover’s landing will be a bit dramatic. The entire process is expected to take around seven minutes, marking humanity’s first-ever autonomous guided landing on the Red Planet. NASA recently released a CGI ‘trailer’ for the upcoming landing, one that demonstrates what the process will look like in a cinematic way.
NASA has already conducted a full simulation of Perseverance’s landing, including the changes that had to be made in light of the pandemic. How will the event take place?
NASA explains that Perseverance will drop through Mars’ atmosphere at around 12,000 miles per hour, eventually deploying a parachute that will slow the rover down to a far more gentle 2 miles per hour. The space agency will utilize the previously used sky crane maneuver in which the rover will be lowered to the ground by three cables from the descent stage.
How to watch Perseverance land
As expected, NASA will let the public participate in the event, which will include the Perseverance Rover Virtual NASA Social event. The public will get the ‘virtual guest experience,’ as well as a virtual passport stamp after the landing to mark their participation.
The countdown coverage will start on February 16 at 7 PM EST via a NASA Social live stream with a preview of landing day. On February 18, you’ll be able to watch the live landing broadcast online and via the NASA TV Public Channel. If you don’t want commentary, you’ll have the option of watching the JPL Mission Control camera feeds with mission audio on NASA TV Media Channel starting at 2 PM.
In addition, NASA will be presenting a mission control 360-degree live stream with commentary on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s YouTube channel. The full three-day broadcast schedule, as well as links to all of NASA’s various social and video accounts, can be found on the Perseverance website here.