NASA rover faces 'seven minutes of terror' before landing on Mars

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – When NASA’s Mars wanderer Perseverance, a robot astrobiology laboratory loaded inside a room pill, strikes the last stretch of its seven-month trip from Earth today, it is readied to give off a radio alert as it spots right into the slim Martian ambience.

By the moment that signal gets to goal supervisors some 127 million miles (204 million kilometres) away at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, Perseverance will certainly currently have actually come down on the Red Planet – with any luck unscathed.

The six-wheeled wanderer is anticipated to take 7 mins to come down from the top of the Martian ambience to the earth’s surface area in much less time than the 11-minute-plus radio transmission toEarth Thus, Thursday’s last, self-guided descent of the wanderer spacecraft is readied to happen throughout a white-knuckled period that JPL designers passionately describe as the “seven minutes of terror.”

Al Chen, head of the JPL descent and also touchdown group, called it one of the most important and also most harmful component of the $2.7 billion goal.

“Success is never assured,” Chen informed a current information instruction. “And that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the biggest, heaviest and most complicated rover we’ve ever built to the most dangerous site we’ve ever attempted to land at.”

Much is riding on the result. Building on explorations of virtually 20 UNITED STATE trips to Mars going back to Mariner 4’s 1965 flyby, Perseverance might establish the phase for researchers to effectively reveal whether life has actually existed past Earth, while leading the way for ultimate human objectives to the 4th earth from the sunlight. A secure touchdown, as constantly, precedes.

Success will certainly depend upon an intricate series of occasions unraveling easily – from rising cost of living of a titan, supersonic parachute to release of a jet-powered “sky crane” that will certainly come down to a secure touchdown place and also float over the surface area while reducing the wanderer to the ground on a secure.

“Perseverance has to do this all on her own,” Chen claimed. “We can’t help it during this period.”

If all goes as prepared, NASA’s group would certainly obtain a follow-up radio signal quickly prior to 1 p.m. Pacific time validating that Perseverance arrived on Martian dirt beside an old, long-vanished river delta and also lake bed.


From there, the nuclear battery-powered wanderer, about the dimension of a little SUV, will certainly start the key goal of its two-year goal – involving an intricate collection of tools in the look for indicators of microbial life that might have thrived on Mars billions of years earlier.

Advanced power devices will certainly pierce examples from Martian rock and also secure them right into cigar-sized tubes for ultimate go back to Earth for more evaluation – the initial such samplings ever before accumulated by mankind from the surface area of an additional earth.

Two future objectives to obtain those examples and also fly them back to Earth remain in the drawing board by NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency.

Perseverance, the 5th and also without a doubt most advanced wanderer car NASA has actually sent out to Mars because Sojourner in 1997, likewise integrates numerous introducing attributes not straight pertaining to astrobiology.

Among them is a little drone helicopter, nicknamed Ingenuity, that will certainly check surface-to-surface powered trip on an additional globe for the very first time. If effective, the four-pound (1.8-kg) whirlybird can lead the way for low-altitude airborne security of Mars throughout later on objectives.

Another experiment is a gadget to remove pure oxygen from co2 in the Martian ambience, a device that can verify indispensable for future human life assistance on Mars and also for creating rocket propellant to fly astronauts residence.


The goal’s initial difficulty after a 293-million-mile (472-million-km) trip from Earth is supplying the wanderer undamaged to the flooring of Jerezo Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-km-wide) area that researchers think might nurture an abundant chest of fossilized bacteria.

“It is a spectacular landing site,” job researcher Ken Farley informed press reporters on a teleconference.

What makes the crater’s tough surface – deeply sculpted by long-vanished circulations of fluid water – so alluring as a research study website likewise makes it treacherous as a touchdown area.

The descent series, an upgrade from NASA’s last wanderer goal in 2012, starts as Perseverance, framed in a safety covering, punctures the Martian ambience at 12,000 miles per hr (19,300 kilometres per hr), virtually 16 times the rate of audio on Earth.

After a parachute release to reduce its dive, the descent pill’s thermal barrier is readied to drop away to launch a jet-propelled “sky crane” hovercraft with the wanderer affixed to its tummy.

Once the parachute is rejected, the skies crane’s jet thrusters are readied to instantly terminate, reducing its descent to strolling rate as it nears the crater flooring and also self-navigates to a smooth touchdown website, avoiding stones, high cliffs and also dune.

Hovering over the surface area, the skies crane is because of reduced Perseverance on nylon tethers, cut the chords when the wanderer’s wheels get to the surface area, after that fly off to collapse a secure range away.

Should whatever job, replacement job supervisor Matthew Wallace claimed, post-landing spirit would certainly get on complete display screen at JPL in spite of COVID-19 security procedures that have actually hugged calls within goal control to a minimum.

“I don’t think COVID is going to be able to stop us from jumping up and down and fist-bumping,” Wallace claimed.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and also Will Dunham)