Mark your calendars: The agency’s latest rover has only about 8,640,000 seconds to go before it touches down on the Red Planet, becoming history’s next Mars car.
A mere 100 days and 166 million miles (268 million kilometers) separate NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission and the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater. Landing will occur on February 18, 2021, at 12:43 p.m. PST (3:43 p.m. EST), with confirmation being received back at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California about 11 1/2 minutes later.
The six-wheeled Mars car is tasked with prowling the crater – believed to be the site of a Martian lake billions of years ago – to search for signs of ancient microbial life, collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
To prepare the Perseverance rover for its date with Mars, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission team conducted a wide array of tests to help ensure a successful entry, descent and landing at the Red Planet. From parachute verification in the world’s largest wind tunnel, to hazard avoidance practice in Death Valley, California, to wheel drop testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and much more, every system was put through its paces to get ready for the big day. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
“While we call the six-and-a-half-month trip from Earth to Mars ‘cruise,’ I assure you there is not much croquet going on at the lido deck,” said Project Manager John McNamee of JPL. “Between checking out the spacecraft, and planning and simulating our landing and surface operations, the entire team is on the clock, working toward our exploration of Jezero Crater.”
On November 9, the mission team confirmed that the propulsion subsystem of the descent stage, which will help lower the rover onto Mars, is in good working order. Today, November 10, they turn their attention to the rover’s PIXL and SHERLOC instruments. The Lander Vision System is scheduled to go under the microscope on November 11; and the SuperCam instrument, the day after that. Down the road, on December 18, the team plans to perform a trajectory correction maneuver, using the cruise stage’s eight thrusters to refine the spacecraft’s path toward Mars.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance is 100 days away from touchdown. View the full interactive experience at Eyes on the Solar System.
The mission has already held several test scenarios to help evaluate procedures and train Mars 2020 mission controllers for important milestones to come. During some of these multi-day-long tests, the team encounters unexpected challenges thrown their way by colleagues who play the role of “gremlins.” Even with the challenges introduced during a landing rehearsal back on October 29, the team was able to successfully land a simulated Perseverance rover on Mars.
Another important mission milestone will be rehearsed starting next Monday, November 16, when the team begins a five-day simulation of surface operations – including driving the rover and conducting a sampling. In December, the team is expecting a gremlin or two to make an appearance during another five-day simulation of the rover’s transition from landing to surface operations.
More About the Mission
A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.