How does a Mars rover stick its landing, you ask? Well, NASA is referring to the critical moment as the “7 minutes of terror.”
Compared to Earth, Mars has a very thin atmosphere. When astronauts land they can uses parachutes to safely descend. However, landing on Mars takes a bit more work. Engineers require a combination of techniques, including rockets, to slow the spacecraft down from its 12,000-mile-per-hour plummet to Mars.
Obviously, such innovations don’t come easily. Numerous attempts to land on the “Red Planet” have resulted in crashes, explosions and a casualty rate exceeding 50 percent. The U.S. became the first nation to land a spacecraft on Mars with the twin Vikings in 1976 and has continued to successfully land on the planet’s surface seven times since.
This time around the latest rover, dubbed the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover by NASA, will use the same landing method as the Curiosity rover in 2012.
The mission landing system includes a parachute, descent vehicle and the sky crane maneuver method.
“Both Curiosity and Mars 2020 will use a system called the sky crane. This involves the final step in which the rover, attached to a platform with retro-rockets, will lower down close to the surface of Mars within about ten meters of the surface,” project scientist Kenneth Farley told the Associated Press.
The rover will then be hauled to the surface using the crane. When it touches down, the cables are cut and the platform with rockets will fly away.
“Folks, look at the sky crane landing system and think, is this crazy? Well, the answer is no,” NASA research scientist Bethany Ehlmann told the Associated Press. “It’s a product of careful, reasoned engineering thought because basically it allows you to land only the mass that you want and not land the whole carrier vehicle, which is a lot less difficult.”
Perseverance will land with all the latest tech and the most cameras and microphones ever assembled on a rover to capture sounds and images on Mars.
If you enjoyed this story, you might want to check out the best photos of Earth taken from space.
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