Mark your calendars: The agency's latest rover has only about 8,640,000 seconds to go before it touches down on the Red Planet, becoming history's next Mars car.
A mere 100 days and 166 million miles (268 million kilometers) separate NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission and the Red Planet's Jezero Crater. Landing will occur on Feb. 18, 2021, at 12:43 p.m. PST (3:43 p.m. EST), with confirmation being received back at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California about 11 1/2 minutes later.
The six-wheeled Mars car is tasked with prowling the crater – believed to be the site of a Martian lake billions of years ago – to search for signs of ancient microbial life, collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
"While we call the six-and-a-half-month trip from Earth to Mars 'cruise,' I assure you there is not much croquet going on at the lido deck," said Project Manager John McNamee of JPL. "Between checking out the spacecraft, and planning and simulating our landing and surface operations, the entire team is on the clock, working toward our exploration of Jezero Crater."
On Nov. 9, the mission team confirmed that the propulsion subsystem of the descent stage, which will help lower the rover onto Mars, is in good working order. Today, Nov. 10, they turn their attention to the rover's PIXL and SHERLOC instruments. The Lander Vision System is scheduled to go under the microscope on Nov. 11; and the SuperCam instrument, the day after that. Down the road, on Dec. 18, the team plans to perform a trajectory correction maneuver, using the cruise stage's eight thrusters to refine the spacecraft's path toward Mars.
The mission has already held several test scenarios to help evaluate procedures and train Mars 2020 mission controllers for important milestones to come. During some of these multi-day-long tests, the team encounters unexpected challenges thrown their way by colleagues who play the role of "gremlins." Even with the challenges introduced during a landing rehearsal back on Oct. 29, the team was able to successfully land a simulated Perseverance rover on Mars.
Another important mission milestone will be rehearsed starting next Monday, Nov. 16, when the team begins a five-day simulation of surface operations – including driving the rover and conducting a sampling. In December, the team is expecting a gremlin or two to make an appearance during another five-day simulation of the rover's transition from landing to surface operations.