CAPE CAÑAVERAL, Florida, USA (AP) – Spacecraft that have tried to land on Mars missed, burned on entry, crashed to the surface, or came down in a fierce dust storm just to spit out a single gray and blurry image before dying.
Almost 50 years after the first stumble on Mars, NASA will attempt the most difficult landing yet.
The Perseverance explorer is expected to arrive Thursday at an 8 X 6.4 kilometer (5 X 4 mile) patch on the shore of a former river delta. It’s full of cliffs, wells, sand dunes, and rock fields, any one of which could ruin the $ 3 billion mission. Once-submerged terrain could also contain evidence of past life, all the more reason to collect samples here and return to Earth in 10 years.
While NASA has done everything it can to ensure success, “there’s always the fear that it won’t work well, that it won’t work out,” Landing Team Engineer Erisa Stilley said Tuesday. “We’ve had a good run of successful missions recently and you don’t want to be the next to fail. It’s heartbreaking when that happens. “
NASA has made eight of the nine landing attempts, making the United States the only country to do so. China hopes to be second in late spring with its own life-seeking vehicle; his spacecraft entered Martian orbit last week along with a spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates.
The extremely thin atmosphere of the red planet makes it difficult to descend safely. Russia has racked up the largest number of rover losses on Mars and the moon Phobos since the early 1970s. The European Space Agency has tried and failed as well. Two NASA landers are still operational: the 2012 Curiosity rover and the 2018 InSight. Launched in July, Perseverance will land some 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) away in Jezero Crater, descending by parachute, rocket engines and overhead crane.
NASA has equipped the Perseverance, which weighs one ton, with the latest technology to achieve landing. A new autopilot tool will calculate the distance of the descending rover to the target location and deploy the huge parachute at the precise moment. Then another system will scan the surface, comparing the observations with the integrated maps.
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