NASA is landing another 1-ton robot on Mars, here's how to watch

After a seven month trip to Mars, the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity drone helicopter are set to land shortly before 4 p.m. ET Thursday February 18. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, JPL, and NASA TV will bring it to you live.

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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover outside the WRAL studios.
Tony Rice
, NASA Ambassador

A trio of missions were launched during last summer's window to reach Mars. The United Arab Emirates' Hope mission and China's Tianwen-1 arrived last week. NASA's Mars 2020 mission and its Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter arrive Thursday February 18, timed to arrive shortly after 4 p.m. local time at the Jezero Crater landing site as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flies overhead to images the landing.

How to Watch

Coverage begins on NASA TV at 2:15 p.m. without additional briefings and programming for students throughout the day.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will be streaming an event on their YouTube channel beginning at noon. Museum educators will be gathering your questions throughout for Q&A after landing.

  • noon - 12:30 p.m.: Science instruments and objectives of the Mars 2020 mission
  • 12:30-1pm: Dr. Rachel Smith, NC Museum of Natural Sciences/Appalachian State University will describe how the mission will search for signs of past life
  • 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.: Build a model of the rover in a hands-on session. A materials list of items you probably already have around the house is available on the museum website.
  • 2:00 p.m. - 3:45 pm Learn more about the Perseverance rover, the history of Mars exploration, and the entry, descent and landing process
  • 3:48 p.m. as we wait the 11 minutes and 22 seconds for signals to arrive from Mars, watch real-time simulations of the milestones during entry, descent and landing of the rover.
  • 3:55 p.m. live feed from the NASA/JPL Space Flight Operations Facility as signals arrive from Mars followed by Q&A

What to watch for

Perseverance is traveling at about 12,000 mph when it hits the top of the Martian atmosphere. It must slow the 1-ton, car-sized rover to a 2 mph landing in just seven minutes. Communications between earth and Mars take more than 11 minutes so the rover has to do all of this autonomously.

This illustration shows the events that occur in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey that NASA’s Perseverance rover takes to Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021. A metric version of this illustration is also available.

Entry, Descent, and Landing, or "EDL,” begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, travelling nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). It ends about seven minutes later, with Perseverance stationary on the Martian surface. Perseverance handles everything on its own during this process. It takes more than 11 minutes to get a radio signal back from Mars, so by the time the mission team hears that the spacecraft has entered the atmosphere, in reality, the rover is already on the ground.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California built and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover for NASA. Credit
  • A pair of 154 pound weights are ejected, changing the center of gravity, pointing the rover, still in it's backshell behind a heatshield in the right direction for entry at 12,000 mph.
  • Even the thin (about 1% that of Earth's) Martian atmosphere provides enough friction to slow the rover by about 10,000 mph.
  • A 70-foot wide parachute, deploys about 240 seconds after entry into the Martian atmosphere, at an altitude of about 7 miles, slowing the vehicle from 940 mph to about 200 mph.
  • Additional weights are deployed to again shift the center of gravity, leveling the vehicle allowing radar and cameras to see the ground for comparison with maps created from other spacecraft orbiting Mars
  • Like the Curiosity rover before, Perseverance will be lowered on 20-foot cables suspended from a descent stage which will fly off after landing
  • Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California will be monitoring for the first signals from Perseverance indicating a safe landing followed by initial images of the landing site from small hazard avoidance cameras along the lower front edge of the rover. Look for celebratory jars of peanuts being passed around.

Mission Control Live 360

This live feed from Space Flight Operations Facility puts you in the middle of activity at mission control for NASA's robotic missions.

Mission to Mars AR

You can experience Mars and the robots that are exploring it via a new augmented reality application sponsored by The Smithsonian Channel. Mission to Mars AR is available for IOS and Android and was used to create the image above of Perseverance outside the WRAL studios.


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