MYSTERY WIRE — NASA says its Mars rover is headed for a “bullseye” landing at Jezero Crater when it arrives on Thursday, February 18.
Perseverance is aiming for an ancient river delta that seems a logical spot for once harboring life.
This landing zone in Jezero Crater is so treacherous that NASA nixed it for Curiosity, but so tantalizing that scientists are keen to get hold of its rocks.
Steep cliffs, deep pits and fields of rocks could cripple or doom Perseverance, following its seven-minute atmospheric plunge.
With an 11 1/2-minute communication lag each way, the rover will be on its own, unable to rely on flight controllers.
NASA is upping its game thanks to new navigation technology designed to guide the rover to a safe spot.
During a virtual briefing on Tuesday, Perseverance deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper said the rover was headed for a “bullseye” landing at Jezero Crater.
“I can tell you that Perseverance is operating perfectly right now, that all systems are go for landing,” she said.
“The targeting is on the bullseye and we are headed exactly where we want to be for Mars.”
Faster than previous Mars vehicles but still moving at a glacial pace, the six-wheeled Perseverance will drive across Jezero, collecting core samples of the most enticing rocks and gravel.
The rover will set the samples aside for retrieval by a fetch rover launching in 2026.
Under an elaborate plan still being worked out by NASA and the European Space Agency, the geologic treasure would arrive on Earth in the early 2030s.
Scientists contend it’s the only way to ascertain whether life flourished on a wet, watery Mars 3 billion to 4 billion years ago.
“Our journey has been from following the water, to seeing whether this planet was habitable, to finding complex chemicals. And now we’re at the advent of an entirely new phase, returning samples, an aspirational goal that has been with the science community for decades,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.
The U.S. is still the only country to successfully land on Mars, beginning with the 1976 Vikings. Two spacecraft are still active on the surface: Curiosity and InSight.
Smashed Russian and European spacecraft litter the Martian landscape, meanwhile, along with NASA’s failed Mars Polar Lander from 1999.