Scientists have infamously referred to the entry, descent and landing sequences of a space mission as the so-called “seven minutes of terror,” highlighting the agonizing period in which a probe lands autonomously. The touchdown is carried out without human involvement since it takes 14 minutes to get information back to Earth from Mars.
NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to undergo a nail-biting landing sequence later this week, as the space probe prepares to enter Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere and sharply decrease its velocity in a bid to avoid a crash-landing.
Estimates indicate Perseverance will be traveling at about 12,100 mph upon entering the Martian atmosphere and will drop down to a walking speed of about 1.7 mph at touchdown, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The spacecraft’s dramatic change in speed will be largely reduced by the ignition of eight retrorockets aboard Perseverance.
At exactly 3:55 p.m. EST, Perseverance will be touching down in the Jezero Crater – one of the more dangerous landing sites chosen by NASA – with the help of the probe’s Terrain-Relative Navigation technology, a suite of radar modules and cameras.
In a recent video release detailing the landing sequences, Al Chen, NASA’s entry, descent and landing lead, underscored that “surviving that seven minutes is really just the beginning” for the probe as the mission to examine the Martian surface will not kick off until the landing is a success.
“Its job – being the first leg of sample-return; to go look for those signs of past life on Mars – all that can’t start until we get Perseverance safely to the ground, and then that’s when the real mission begins,” Chen said.
Scientists with the JPL will spend roughly three months updating Perseverance’s system and ensuring the rover will be prepared to take its very first steps among the distant planet’s rocky terrain.
Perseverance will be NASA’s fifth rover to travel across portions of the red planet; however, it won’t be alone since China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft and the United Arab Emirate’s Hope probe will be nearby.