NASA's Perseverance rover is ready to land on Mars, the agency confirmed today (Feb. 16).
The rover, which launched this summer as the star of the agency's Mars 2020 mission, will touch down Thursday (Feb. 18) in Jezero Crater, an ancient delta on the Martian surface. Perseverance, or "Percy" for short, will explore the Martian terrain and conduct a number of science investigations. Among its objectives, Percy will collect samples, deploy the first helicopter beyond Earth, and search for signs of ancient life on the fourth planet from the sun.
"Perseverance is operating perfectly," Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said during a news conference held virtually today about the rover's status two days ahead of the landing. "The spacecraft is focused, the team is focused and we are all ready to go for landing," Trosper added.
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Ahead of the landing, the teams at NASA sent the spacecraft the command series for the entry, descent and landing sequence, known as EDL, Trosper said, starting the timeline for touchdown.
The spacecraft will enter the official EDL phase on Thursday. EDL, the shortest but most intense phase of the entire mission, is also known as the "seven minutes of terror." During this seven-minute phase, the spacecraft has to slow down from nearly 12,500 miles per hour (20,000 kilometers per hour) to zero miles per hour (0 km per hour) to land on the planet.
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Agency personnel are eagerly anticipating getting through these "seven minutes of terror" and safely landing the spacecraft.
"I'm feeling great," Trosper, who has worked on all five of NASA's rover missions, told Space.com about the upcoming landing. "There are no guarantees in this business … we always talk about what Mars might throw at us this time. And it's never the thing it threw the last time and so we have to be prepared for that.
"But," she added, "the team is doing a great job, the spacecraft is solid. I lead the test program, I feel very confident that it will do the things we do. Again, no guarantees, but I'm feeling great."
"Whether it's on the Red Planet, or here at home on our blue marble, science can bring us together and create solutions to challenges that seem impossible," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said during the news conference.
The rover is getting close to the Red Planet, about 125 million miles (201 million kilometers) away from Earth and less than 370,000 miles (595,000 km) from Mars, Trosper said. You can follow the spacecraft as it nears the planet with a virtual simulation of the mission here.
And of course, you can follow landing day itself on Feb. 18. NASA will provide live coverage of the event beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1715 GMT). You can watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly at NASA TV on YouTube.
Email Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.