At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, there’s a special name for the time it will take the Mars Perseverance spacecraft to travel from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface of the planet. They call it “seven minutes of terror.”
Perseverance is expected to land on the Red Planet Thursday after a seven-month journey. But for the final drop, the crew back on Earth won’t be able to guide the nerve-wracking, high-stakes landing.
Instead, it will rely on new technology and lots of training to — hopefully — reach its destination, Mars’ Jezero Crater, and begin its mission looking for evidence of ancient life.
In these five videos, science correspondent Miles O’Brien previews the nailbiter landing, what scientists are hoping to learn, and the innovations on board, plus a look back at past Mars exploration.
How NASA plans to fly a helicopter on Mars
Nestled snug up against the belly of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is a helicopter called Ingenuity, which NASA hopes will become the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
Could NASA’s next mission find life on Mars?
The Jezero Crater is dry as a bone now, but scientists picked it for Perseverance to study because they think 3.5 billion years ago, it was a veritable garden spot. In its day, such a place might have been a rich breeding ground for life.
How NASA’s Mars rovers have gotten bigger, better and more complicated over the years
When the fifth NASA Mars rover arrives at the Red Planet, the scientists and engineers understand it can all end in (unhappy) tears. Yet past rovers have outstripped expectations, and the latest one is designed to take the search for life up another notch.
10 images that reveal what we’ve learned about Mars after decades of exploration
Space historian Andy Chaikin joins Miles to share 10 images from Mars that tell the story of our exploration and discovery on that planet.