The robot and the Red Planet are still separated by some 4.5 million km (3 million miles), but this gap is closing rapidly.
The most significant, most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to land on another planet, the Nasa robot, is targeted at a near-equatorial crater called Jezero.
Touchdown is expected shortly before 2100 GMT on Thursday 18 February.
To get down, the Nasa rover will have to survive what engineers call the “seven minutes of terror” – the time it takes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface.
The “terror” refers to the daunting challenge that is inherent in trying to reduce an entry speed of 20,000km/h to something like walking pace at the moment of “wheels down”.
“When the scientists look at our landing site, Jezero Crater, they see the scientific promise of everything. The remains of an ancient river flowing in and flowing out of this crater and think that’s the place to go to look for signs of past life. But when I look at Jezero, I see the danger,” says Allen Chen, the engineer who leads the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) effort for Perseverance.
“There’s danger everywhere. There’s this 60-80m-tall cliff that cuts right through the middle of our landing site. If you look to the west, there are craters that the rover can’t get out of. Even if we were to land successfully in one of them. And if you look to the east, there are large rocks that our rover would be very unhappy about if we put down on them,” he told The New York Times.
Fortunately, Perseverance has tried and tested technologies that should ensure it reaches a safe point on the surface. Among them is the famous “Skycrane” jet pack that successfully landed Nasa’s previous rover, Curiosity, eight years ago.
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