Tomorrow is a day when a NASA space robot will make a historic landing on the surface of Mars.
The Perseverance rover has traveled the 34 million miles from Earth to the Red Planet in the past seven months and is expected to transmit groundbreaking images from the surface.
It will also look for signs of life after landing in a crater called Jezero north of the planet’s equator.
The rover is scheduled to make its seven-minute descent at around 7.15 p.m. tomorrow – and anxious scientists will find out more than an hour later if it was successful.
Here’s what we know about the historic mission.
What is the mission supposed to achieve?
For the first time, we could have a definitive answer to the question of whether there is life on Mars. thanks to the data collected by the rover.
It could also help pave the way for people to be sent from the sun to the mysterious fourth planet for the first time.
NASA has identified Jezero Crater – a 45 km wide area believed to be an ancient river delta – as a region where evidence of past lives could be preserved.
The probe collects rock and soil samples that are stored in tubes on the surface of Mars.
According to NASA, it should return around 30 samples in the early 2030s.
Project scientist Ken Farley said, “It’s a spectacular landing site.”
What do we know about the rover?
The groundbreaking spacecraft is equipped with 19 cameras that beam images back to Earth – although there will be delays.
It weighs 1,050 kg and is navigated to the surface by its installed systems, while engineers on Earth hold their breath and are unable to control it.
It is equipped with a mini helicopter called the Ingenuity that weighs only 1.8 kg.
This will be the first of its kind to fly on another planet and is expected to help gather valuable data and images.
The nuclear battery powered rover, roughly the size of a small SUV, has a complex suite of instruments, including advanced power tools, that can be used to drill samples from Martian rocks.
These are sealed in cigar-sized tubes that are later returned to Earth for analysis – the first such samples ever collected by humanity from the surface of another planet.
The rover also comes with a weather station and two microphones that NASA hopes will add more sensory depth to the images it takes.
Two future missions to retrieve these samples and return them to Earth are being planned by NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency.
Endurance is the fifth and by far the most advanced rover vehicle NASA has sent to Mars since Sojourner in 1997.
How difficult will it be to land?
As it descends through the Martian atmosphere, the 12,500 mph endurance has to slow down – which is not an easy task.
Engineers have warned: “Success is never guaranteed.”
Al Chen, head of the descent and landing team at the Space Agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called it the most critical and dangerous part of the $ 2.7 billion mission.
It will take the six-wheeled rover seven minutes to descend from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface of the planet.
He said, “Success is never assured. And that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the largest, heaviest, most complicated rover we’ve ever built in the most dangerous spot we’ve ever tried to land.”
How can I follow the landing from the UK?
The good news is that the landing is streamed online by NASA and is fully covered here by the mirror.
NASA YouTube channel shows the main landing, while viewers can also tune in to see the mission control room on the “Jet” channel of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
If everything works, said assistant project manager Matthew Wallace, the exuberance after landing at JPL would come into its own despite Covid-19’s security protocols that have kept close contact within mission control to a minimum.
“I don’t think Covid can stop us from jumping up and down and poking our fists,” Wallace said.