Sometimes half measures can be a good thing – especially on a journey this long. The agency’s latest rover only has about 146 million miles left to reach its destination.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission has logged a
lot of flight miles since being lofted skyward on July 30 – 146.3 million miles
(235.4 million kilometers) to be exact. Turns out that is exactly the same
distance it has to go before the spacecraft hits the Red Planet’s atmosphere
like a 11,900 mph (19,000 kph) freight train on Feb. 18, 2021.
“At 1:40 p.m. Pacific Time today, our spacecraft will
have just as many miles in its metaphorical rearview mirror as it will out its metaphorical
windshield,” said Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance
rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “While
I don’t think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from
home, it’s still a pretty neat milestone. Next stop, Jezero
The Sun’s gravitational influence plays a significant role
in shaping not just spacecraft trajectories to Mars (as well as to everywhere
else in the solar system), but also the relative movement of the two planets.
So Perseverance’s route to the Red Planet follows a curved trajectory rather
than an arrow-straight path.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has logged 146.3 million (235.4 million kilometers) of space miles – exactly half of what will be covered before reaching the Red Planet. View the full interactive experience at Eyes on the Solar System.
“Although we’re halfway into the distance we need to
travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” Kangas
explained. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7
million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8
million kilometers] in front.”
At the current distance,
it takes 2 minutes, 22 seconds for a transmission to travel from mission
controllers at JPL via the Deep
Space Network to the
spacecraft. By time of landing, Perseverance will have covered 292.5 million miles (470.8 million kilometers), andMars will be
about 130 million miles (209 million
kilometers) away from Earth; at that point, a transmission will take
about 11.5 minutes to reach the spacecraft.
Work Continues En
The mission team continues to check out spacecraft
systems big and small during interplanetary cruise. Perseverance’s RIMFAX and MOXIE instruments were tested and determined to be in
good shape on Oct. 15. MEDA got a thumbs up on Oct. 19. There was even a line item to check the
condition of the X-ray tube in the PIXL instrument on Oct. 16, which also went as planned.
“If it is part of our spacecraft and
electricity runs through it, we want to confirm it is still working properly following
launch,” said Keith Comeaux, deputy chief engineer for the Mars 2020
Perseverance rover mission. “Between these checkouts – along with charging
the rover’s and Mars
Helicopter’s batteries, uploading files and sequences for surface
operations, and planning for and executing trajectory correction maneuvers –
our plate is full right up to landing.”
More About the Mission
A key objective of
Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The
rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for
human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and
cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in
cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to
collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for
The Mars 2020 mission is
part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare
for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to
the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around
the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena,
California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance and Curiosity
For more about Perseverance:
For more information about NASA’s Mars missions, go to:
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Grey Hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
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Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory