NASA rover Perseverance to land on Mars after ‘seven minutes of terror’

(WISH) — On Thursday NASA will attempt a high-risk landing of its Perseverance rover on Mars. The moment is called the “seven minutes of terror,” and describes the rover’s entry, descent and landing.

Perseverance has traveled through space since last July, and Thursday’s landing scheduled at 3:55 p.m. will determine the fate of the mission.  

A Purdue scientist played a key role in the mission. Briony Horgan is a Purdue University Associate Professor of Planetary Science and dubbed these seven minutes as the scariest moment of the mission. Horgan leads a study of the geology of the rover’s landing site.

Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary science (Provided Photo/Purdue University)

“The rover descends in a plasma fireball through the Mars atmosphere and has to slow down from about 12,000 miles per hour to zero, in about seven minutes. So it is a pretty scary endeavor,” said Horgan in the Purdue University news release.

NASA said it takes seven minutes for Perseverance to go from the top of the Mars atmosphere to the planet’s ground. For the entire descent to the Jezero Crater, the rover will have no help or commands from NASA’s team on earth. Perseverance will use parachutes and retrorockets to help slow its speed. The rover will also use terrain-relevant navigation to essentially map out the ground and determine the safest location to land.

“There is a lot counting on this,” said Al Chen, the leader of the Mars 2020 entry, descent, and landing team. “Surviving that seven minutes is really just the beginning for perseverance. Its job being the first leg of sample return to go look for signs of pieces of life on Mars and all that can’t start until we get perseverance to the ground and then that’s when the real mission begins.”

The rover will use 23 cameras and two microphones to collect samples and feed information back to Earth about Mars for the next two years. Along for the ride is Ingenuity, which will be the first helicopter to fly on another planet.

The rover is also carrying a tribute to healthcare workers. The LAX pylons are lit up in red, in observance of the mission and so is the Empire State Building in New York.