How to Watch Live: NASA Drops Perseverance Rover on Mars

Depiction of the aeroshell containing the Perseverance rover.
Depiction of the aeroshell containing the Perseverance rover.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a seven-month journey to the Red Planet, the Perseverance rover is finally ready to touch down on Mars. We’ve got you covered for the historic landing, as you can follow the dreaded “seven minutes of terror” live right here.

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“No Mars landing is guaranteed, but we have been preparing a decade to put this rover’s wheels down on the surface of Mars and get to work,” Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for the Mars 2020 mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

Indeed, space is hard, as the saying goes, and Mars, named for the Roman god of war, always presents a challenge to prospective visitors. Roughly 60% of all missions to Mars have failed, in what is a sobering reminder of the complexities involved. This next attempt will be no exception, with NASA describing the Thursday landing as the most precise yet. The rover will have to rely on unproven navigational aids, while attempting to avoid such hazards as rock fields, hills, and the steep walls of Jezero crater.

But the stage is set, and the $2.7 billion Perseverance rover is scheduled to reach the surface at 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST) on Thursday, February 18. Coverage at NASA’s live stream, which you can watch below, begins at 2:15 p.m. EST (11:15 a.m. PST).

We’ve provided the feed from YouTube, but other channels carrying the broadcast include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, Theta.TV, and the NASA App. Spanish speakers can follow the action here. Other cool options include a clean feed from NASA mission control and a 360-degree stream via YouTube. A post-landing news briefing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. EST (2:30 p.m. PST), which you can watch here.

It takes approximately 11 minutes for radio signals to travel the distance from Mars to Earth, which means Perseverance will have to do this alone. It also means we’ll be behind the actual action on Mars by that amount of time, which NASA has adjusted for in its schedule. That said, Mission controllers “may not be able to confirm these milestones at the times listed... because of the complexity of deep-space communications,” according to NASA.

Perseverance will plow into the Martian atmosphere at speeds reaching 12,100 mph (19,500 km/h) at 3:48 p.m. EST (12:48 p.m. PST). The ensuing seven minutes of terror will involve extreme heat, the deployment of a supersonic parachute, and the rover’s separation from the heat shield and back shell. By the time it hits the dirt—with the assistance of retrorockets and tethers—Perseverance will have slowed down to a walking pace.

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Once the red dust has settled, Perseverance will take photos of its surroundings and transmit them back to Earth. Mission controllers will also assess the health of the rover, in a process that’s expected to last more than a month. During this time, Perseverance will deploy its mast, which will result in even more images and possibly even a selfie. Mission controllers will also take the time to evaluate the status of Ingenuity—a small helicopter brought along for the journey.

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Assuming all is well, Perseverance will then formally enter into the science stage of the mission, as it will search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover’s new home, Jezero crater, was once covered in water and fed by a rushing river, making it an ideal setting for this robotic astrobiologist.

Should all go well, the rover will be the fifth to reach the Red Planet, its predecessors being Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Fingers are firmly crossed that we’re about to witness a historic landing and a fruitful next chapter in our ongoing exploration of Mars.

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George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

DISCUSSION

I wish the term “seven minutes of terror” would die already. Terror is a real thing experienced by real people and rover descents hardly qualify. Exciting, yes. Nerve-wracking, no doubt. Terror, not even close. When people are landing on Mars there may be some well deserved and appropriately called terror. 

That said, I’m super excited about this latest mission. A flying drone on Mars is so damn cool.