Mars Rover Perseverance

Sophia Mirabal

NASA’s Perseverance rover, nicknamed Percy, and attached helicopter Ingenuity concluded their 300-million-mile journey to Mars’ surface Thursday, Feb. 18th at 3:55 p.m. ET. The seven-month journey began this past July 30th when the spacecraft carrying the rover was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

NASA holds the best success record with robotic landings on the red planet, but 40% of missions are ineffective-It is literally rocket science, after all. The dangers a rover must face to land are plentiful. Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) is the most critical part of the course, where success is never assured. Another risk is the money lost. It is safe to say any NASA creation is worth millions, but the cost to run a Mars rover is notably costly. The cost of spacecraft development, launch services, and prime missions operations add up to nearly 3 billion dollars. Not to mention the Ingenuity helicopter costs, which is 80 million to construct and will take 5 million to run for 30 days.

Percy is NASA’s most readily equipped rover yet. Twenty-five cameras were added to the mission- the most ever sent to Mars. Six off-the-shelf color cameras were devoted to EDL, displaying numerous perspectives of the terrain. All but one camera worked. The lone microphone turned on for landing failed, but some snippets of sound were preserved. The agency’s last rover, Curiosity, has only been able to supply lower-quality images of the planet. Nevertheless, Percy’s recent photos have proven to be more than satisfactory. 

On landing day, at 2:15 p.m. ET, a Livestream of the events began. In case you missed it, here is the timeline. 

2:15 p.m. Live coverage begins in two languages

NASA launches multiple options to tune into the event almost 2 hours leading up to the landing. Their JPL mission control’s clean feed is available, as well as a 360-degree view of mission control.

2:30 p.m. Mission is a go

Swati Mohan, Mars 2020 Guidance, Navigation and Controls Operations, or GN&C, lead, says the spacecraft is about 9,000 miles from Mars. In his own words, “So far, she is healthy and on course.” Status updates will be provided as the spacecraft descends.

2:45 p.m. Final readiness checks 

One hour to go before the spacecraft begins entry and descent into the Martian atmosphere, which is expected to happen around 3:48 p.m. ET. Mission controllers turn off the transmitter sending commands to the spacecraft, leaving Perseverance to complete its journey. The Deep Space Network remained in contact with the aircraft, and Spain will be the first to communicate with the rover at landing.

3:15 p.m. On target

Allen Chen, Mars 2020 entry, descent, and landing lead, takes a moment to thank all the teams involved with the mission personally. Chen added, “She’s right on target” and “armed with the right information to help her land.” Other mission managers were quick to thank their teams as well, and the spacecraft is now operating on its own. 

3:40 p.m. EDL underway

The spacecraft has officially begun its phases necessary for proper arrival, kicking off its Cruise Stage shell and using its thrusters to stop spinning and position itself for entry.

3:48 p.m. Confirmation of entry

Perseverance begins to enter the Mars atmosphere, which should help the spacecraft slow down. For now, it is still traveling at an impressive 10,000 mph.

3:52 p.m. Parachute deploy

Telemetry confirms the spacecraft’s 70-foot diameter parachute has deployed, and the spacecraft has pushed off its heat shield. The rover will begin using its terrain relative navigation to find a safe landing spot. It has a radar of the ground beneath it.

3:55 p.m. One small step for the machine… 

Perseverance successfully lands in 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater on Mars, becoming the 5th NASA rover to be dispatched to the planet (7th total) and one of the five remaining operational. The other four are NASA’s Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. This is just the 3rd arrival this month after the UAE’s and China’s orbiters, which reached their destinations on Feb. 9th and 10th. 

So, what’s next?

This effort is just the beginning of a decade-long mission called Mars Sample Return. With it, NASA hopes to return the first Martian sample to Earth. Perseverance is currently looking to gather rock samples and begin searching for signs of microbial life. The rover is set to fill 38 glass tubes with Mars’ surface samples, which it will spend its first martian year (687 Earth days) doing. If all goes according to plan, the mission will allow scientists to scour the samples for details about the Red Planet’s climate, geological history, and even subtle life signs. If the rover is still in good working order after one Martian year, then NASA will have a chance to extend the mission and explore further.