NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft is now halfway to Mars – flying 146 million miles (235 million km).
Although the spacecraft is half the distance it needs to travel to land on Mars, it is not quite between Earth and Mars because the journey between two planets does not take a straight line.
Instead, the spacecraft is about 26.6 million miles (42.7 million km) from Earth, and about 17.9 million miles (28.8 million km) from Mars.
The persistence is set to creep into Mars’ atmosphere at 11,900 miles per hour (19,000 kilometers per hour) on February 18 next year.
Currently, it takes two minutes and 22 seconds for transmissions from Earth to reach the spacecraft, but by the time it reaches Mars, the transmissions themselves will take 11.5 minutes.
This is less than the time between persistence entering Mars’ atmosphere and landing.
By the time the Mission Control Center sees what is happening, the rover will have already landed or destroyed – as most of the Mars landings have ended.
NASA hopes that new guidance technology and parachute launch will help steer the rover away from these hazards, but its controllers on the ground will be powerless.
After traveling more than 290 million miles (470 million kilometers), the craft, which has a mass of 1,050 kg (2,313 lb), can simply add to craters on the planet’s red surface.
But if everything goes as planned, perseverance will land in an ancient river delta and a former lake on Mars known as Jezero Crater.
The Jezero Crater is full of obstacles and dangers for the rover, including rocks, cliffs, sand dunes and depressions, which can finish the job, whether on a descent or as the rover is moving along the surface.
The sediments in the crater are rich in clay minerals, which form in the presence of water, which means that life may have been there before – these sediments on Earth are known to store microscopic fossils.
The scientists also noted that the crater has no depth proportional to its diameter, which means that sediments likely entered the crater through flowing water – potentially as low as a kilometer – all of which would provide a rich array of signs of ancient life.
NASA says verifying the existence of ancient life on Mars carries an enormous burden of proof.
While the remnants of microbial life on Mars have left telltale signs in the layers of sediment to which perseverance will be transported, it can be difficult to analyze on the planet itself.
After digging into the best rocks, the rover will store about half a kilogram of the rock sample in dozens of titanium tubes that will be collected by another rover within about a decade.
NASA and the European Space Agency are planning a campaign to return Mars samples, during which these samples can be examined with instruments that are too large and complex to be sent to Mars.
Perseverance is well equipped A miniature helicopter It is called Ingenuity that weighs just 4 pounds (1.8 kg) and will be the first helicopter to fly on another planet.
“The laws of physics might say that it is almost impossible to fly on Mars,” the space agency said sarcastically, “but in reality, driving a vehicle heavier than air on the red planet is much more difficult than that.”