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NASA Perseverance Rover will land on Mars Thursday: Here’s how to watch it

United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying Mars 2020 rover from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., July 30, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

The Mars Perseverance Rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Thursday with a mission to seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for the possible return to Earth.

NASA is inviting the public to take part in virtual activities and events as it nears entry, descent and landing — with touchdown scheduled for about 3:55 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18. The rover was launched last July from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

During the landing, the rover will plunge through the thin Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 miles per hour. A parachute and powered descent will slow the rover down to about two miles per hour. During what’s known as the sky crane maneuver, the descent stage will lower the rover on three cables to land softly on six wheels at Jezero Crater, according to NASA.

And while all landings on Mars are difficult, the Perseverance Rover is attempting to touch down in the most challenging terrain on Mars ever targeted. It is so intense that engineers have referred to the time it takes to land on Mars as the “seven minutes of terror,” according to NASA.

The landing sequence is complex — and targeting a location like the Jezero Crater on Mars is only possible because of new landing technologies.

The live landing broadcast is expected to begin at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.

You can watch the broadcast and conference on NASA TV, which can be streamed through a variety of platforms — including televisions, computers and mobile devices. You can watch on NASA Live and NASA’s YouTube channel, as well as other social media channels.

A post-landing news conference is expected no later than 5:30 p.m.

Over the last two decades, missions flown by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program have shown that Mars was once different from the cold, dry planet it is today. Evidence discovered by landed and orbital missions point to wet conditions billions of years ago, according to NASA, which lasted long enough to potentially support the development of microbial life.

Now the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is designed to better understand the geology of Mars and seek signs of ancient life, collecting and storing a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth in the future. It will also test new technology to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars, according to NASA.

The mission will last at least one Mars year, or two Earth years.

Perseverance has a new set of science instruments and the ability to “self-drive” on the Martian surface. It will also carry a separate technology experiment to the surface of Mars — a helicopter named Ingenuity, the first aircraft to fly in a controlled way on another planet.

Once the Mars rover is on the planet’s surface, it will deploy the helicopter and place it on the ground. Controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight. NASA will conduct a full 30-day flight test campaign that includes five flights of incrementally farther flight distances and longer durations over a period of time.

The rover is part of a larger exploration program that includes missions to the moon to prepare for human missions to Mars. Charged with returning astronauts to the moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis program.


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