“7 Minutes of Terror,”: Entry, Descent and Landing of the Perseverance on Mars

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On the surface, Mars presents itself as a world on the verge of inhospitality. Average temperatures that hover around negative 81 degrees. A thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere sometimes rendered opaque by planet-wide dust storms that can even be seen from Earth. Gravity that’s just one-third of what humans have evolved to tolerate.

But the Red Planet’s features tell a different story.

Looking at photos captured by satellites in orbit, it doesn’t take much imagining to see Mars was likely once home to rivers of running water and enormous crater-lakes. With the right conditions, perhaps this planet that gets its rusty color from iron oxide-rich rocks could once have been suitable for life – or at least life as we know it.

This dichotomy has left experts asking one of the most difficult-to-answer questions in science today: What happened to Mars, and can the same thing happen here on Earth?

This NASA graphic shows the stages of the Mars rover Perseverance’s landing. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By the numbers: NASA’s Perseverance rover

  • Length: 10 feet (17 feet with drill-arm extended)
  • Width: 9 feet
  • Height: 7 feet
  • Weight: 2,260 pounds
  • Top speed: 0.1 mph
  • Power source: U.S. government-provided nuclear decay “battery”
  • Distance traveled to Mars: 293 million miles 
  • Equipment: Cameras, radar sensors, “arm” with a drill, scientific analysis instruments, capsules to store samples, Ingenuity helicopter attached to “belly”

Timeline: Seven minutes of terror (all times Eastern on Feb. 18)

  • 3:38 p.m.: Cruise stage separation
  • 3:48 p.m.: Seven minutes of terror begin with atmospheric entry
  • 3:49 p.m.: Moment of peak heating (2,400 degrees)
  • 3:52 p.m.: 70-foot parachute deployment
  • 3:52 p.m.: Heat shield separation (20 seconds after parachute)
  • 3:54 p.m.: Perseverance separates from protective back shell and parachute
  • 3:55 p.m.: Perseverance touchdown in Jezero Crater

Note: Visit floridatoday.com/space at 3 p.m. Thursday to watch live as Perseverance targets a landing on the Red Planet

Source: Space.com and USA Today