NASA's Perseverance rover will land on Mars this week. Here's what to expect

Perseverance, NASA's most sophisticated rover to date, is expected to land on the surface of Mars on Thursday, February 18, around 3:55 p.m. ET.The ro...

Posted: Feb 15, 2021 11:02 AM
Updated: Feb 15, 2021 1:30 PM

Perseverance, NASA's most sophisticated rover to date, is expected to land on the surface of Mars on Thursday, February 18, around 3:55 p.m. ET.

The rover has been traveling through space since launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the end of July. When it reaches Mars, Perseverance will have traveled 292.5 million miles on its journey from Earth.

Perseverance is NASA's first mission that will search for signs of ancient life on another planet to help answer the big question: Was life ever present on Mars? The rover will explore 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 for the ride with Perseverance is an experiment to fly a helicopter, called Ingenuity, on another planet for the first time.

Here's what to expect this week.

How to watch

Unfortunately, we can't watch the SUV-size rover land on the surface of Mars -- we're just not there yet, technologically speaking.

But NASA is inviting the world to tune in to its countdown and landing commentary, which will stream live beginning on Thursday at 2:15 p.m. ET. Tune in via NASA's public TV channel, website, app, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion or THETA.TV. In a first, the agency will also offer a Spanish language show for the landing.

During the landing coverage, NASA's mission control team will be able to confirm if the rover safely landed on the surface of Mars.

Naturally, the rover has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts, where you can expect updates from the mission team from the perspective of the rover. And you can bet the Curiosity rover and InSight lander will be welcoming Perseverance to their home, the red planet.

The agency has fun ways to participate in the countdown excitement, like photo booths and activities for kids and students. You can also follow every step of the rover's landing through a NASA interactive or sign up for a virtual experience of the landing.

'If there's one thing we know, it's that landing on Mars is never easy,' said Marc Etkind, NASA associate administrator for communications, in a statement. 'But as NASA's fifth Mars rover, Perseverance has an extraordinary engineering pedigree and mission team.'

Just weeks after the 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, Perseverance will be NASA's ninth landing on Mars. First, it has to go through the infamous 'seven minutes of terror.'

The one-way time it takes for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is about 10.5 minutes, which means the seven minutes it takes for the spacecraft to land on Mars will occur without any help or intervention from NASA teams on Earth.

The ground teams tell the spacecraft when to begin EDL (entry, descent and landing) and the spacecraft takes over from there -- and mission control begins an agonizing wait.

This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land, weighing in at over a metric ton.

The spacecraft hits the top of the Martian atmosphere moving at 12,000 miles per hour and has to slow down to zero miles per hour seven minutes later when the rover softly lands on the surface.

The spacecraft's heat shield will endure peak heating of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 seconds after entering the atmosphere.

Perseverance is targeting a 28-mile-wide ancient lake bed and river delta, the most challenging site yet for a NASA spacecraft landing on Mars. Rather than being flat and smooth, the small landing site is littered with sand dunes, steep cliffs, boulders and small craters. The spacecraft has two upgrades -- called Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation -- to navigate this difficult and hazardous site.

Range Trigger will tell the 70.5-foot-wide parachute when to deploy based on the spacecraft's position 240 seconds after entering the atmosphere. After the parachute deploys, the heat shield will detach.

The rover's Terrain-Relative Navigation acts like a second brain, using cameras to take pictures of the ground as it rapidly approaches and determines the safest spot to land. It can shift the landing spot by up to 2,000 feet, according to NASA.

The back shell and parachute separate after the heat shield is discarded -- that will happen when the spacecraft is 1.3 miles above the Martian surface. The Mars landing engines, which include eight retrorockets, will fire to slow the descent from 190 miles per hour to about 1.7 miles per hour.

Then, the famed sky crane maneuver that landed the Curiosity rover will occur. Nylon cords will lower the rover 25 feet below the descent stage. After the rover touches down on the Martian surface, the cords will detach and the descent stage will fly away and land at a safe distance.

The mission: What the rover will do

Once the rover has landed, Perseverance's two-year mission will begin. First, it will go through a 'checkout' period to make sure it's ready.

Perseverance will search for evidence of ancient life and study Mars' climate and geology and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth by the 2030s.

For that reason, Perseverance is also the cleanest machine ever sent to Mars, designed so it doesn't contaminate the Martian samples with any microbes from Earth that could provide a false reading.

Jezero Crater was chosen as Perseverance's home because billions of years ago, the basin was the site of a lake and 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.

'Perseverance's sophisticated science instruments will not only help in the hunt for fossilized microbial life, but also expand our knowledge of Martian geology and its past, present, and future,' said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020, in a statement.

The path Perseverance will traverse is about 15 miles long, an 'epic journey' that will take years, Farley said. What scientists could discover about Mars, though, is worth the journey. To accomplish its goals, Perseverance will drive a little less than 0.1-miles per hour, three times faster than previous rovers.

Perseverance also carries instruments that could help further exploration on Mars in the future, like MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. This experiment, about the size of a car battery, will attempt to convert Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Not only could this help NASA scientists learn how to produce rocket fuel on Mars, but also oxygen that could be used during future human exploration of the red planet.

Ingenuity, the first helicopter on another planet

Perseverance isn't traveling to Mars by itself. Along for the ride is Ingenuity, which will be the first helicopter to fly on another planet.

After landing, the rover will also find a nice, flat surface to drop the Ingenuity helicopter so it has a place to use as a helipad for its potential five test flights during a 30-day period. This will occur within the first 50 to 90 sols, or Martian days, of the mission.

Once Ingenuity is settled on the surface, Perseverance will drive to a safe spot at a distance and use its cameras to watch Ingenuity's flight.

Ingenuity weighs only 4 pounds and features four carbon-fiber blades, solar cells and batteries.

Mars has an incredibly thin atmosphere, so the design for Ingenuity had to be lightweight, while including larger and faster rotors than those of 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.

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
60° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 60°
Muscle Shoals
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 62°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 62°
Fort Payne
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 63°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 521201

Reported Deaths: 10736
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753981490
Mobile39011799
Madison34002496
Tuscaloosa25329444
Montgomery23996567
Shelby23160239
Baldwin20674302
Lee15567165
Calhoun14330311
Morgan14152271
Etowah13677346
Marshall11988220
Houston10402278
Elmore10008200
Limestone9843147
Cullman9501189
St. Clair9449234
Lauderdale9254228
DeKalb8756181
Talladega8104171
Walker7126275
Jackson6751110
Autauga6748103
Blount6511134
Colbert6225130
Coffee5418113
Dale4771111
Russell429338
Franklin420582
Chilton4100109
Covington4059114
Tallapoosa3904146
Escambia389574
Dallas3522149
Chambers3513122
Clarke346760
Marion3072100
Pike306176
Lawrence295395
Winston273072
Bibb256059
Marengo248261
Geneva245975
Pickens233059
Barbour226255
Hale218675
Butler212867
Fayette209460
Henry188044
Cherokee182544
Randolph177041
Monroe172440
Washington164738
Macon155548
Clay150055
Crenshaw149457
Cleburne146341
Lamar139634
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124527
Bullock121540
Conecuh109428
Perry107626
Sumter103232
Coosa99428
Greene91334
Choctaw58724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 829114

Reported Deaths: 12041
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby925491580
Davidson87182924
Knox49326622
Hamilton43174480
Rutherford41760420
Williamson27184213
Sumner23112339
Montgomery19032224
Wilson17930223
Out of TN1791299
Unassigned16627133
Sullivan16062287
Blount14940194
Bradley14477147
Washington14088242
Sevier13086174
Maury13009168
Putnam11143173
Madison10742240
Robertson9552127
Anderson8591171
Hamblen8465170
Greene7703152
Tipton7205103
Coffee6822121
Dickson6711109
Cumberland6536127
Carter6431156
Bedford6398126
Gibson6382144
McMinn633195
Roane6166102
Jefferson6050121
Loudon600069
Lawrence577586
Hawkins5757106
Monroe568295
Warren550481
Dyer5352104
Franklin508188
Fayette489478
Obion449296
Cocke442698
Cheatham441253
Rhea430475
Lincoln429263
Marshall409658
Campbell408262
Weakley401562
Giles393498
Henderson371875
Macon357276
Carroll356882
White353268
Hardin348666
Hardeman346063
Lauderdale313844
Henry311775
Marion308246
Claiborne304873
Scott304345
Overton295960
Wayne294234
Hickman279445
McNairy276554
DeKalb274853
Smith273838
Haywood267961
Grainger257449
Trousdale248522
Morgan245839
Fentress237846
Johnson230138
Chester209251
Bledsoe209011
Crockett200848
Polk198424
Unicoi194049
Cannon188731
Union185434
Grundy177232
Humphreys172621
Lake169526
Sequatchie166128
Benton162840
Decatur157138
Lewis155526
Meigs133923
Stewart130028
Jackson129435
Clay109031
Houston108233
Perry105728
Moore99317
Van Buren83421
Pickett75624
Hancock54512

Community Events