NASA officials have an expression for what it’s like to land a rover on Mars: seven minutes of terror. A million things could go wrong as the spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere and attempts to make it to the surface safely. The drama is made all the more stressful by the 11-minute lag in communications between the planets. On February 18, when the Perseverance rover descends toward the Martian surface, mission control will have no clue whether it succeeded or failed until after the fact. 

“There are no guarantees in this business,” Jennifer Trosper, the deputy project manager for the Mars Perseverance mission, told reporters on Tuesday. “But I’m feeling great.” She is an old hand at this nerve-racking experience, having gone through it with Perseverance’s predecessors Curiosity, Spirit, and Opportunity. 

Should it succeed, Perseverance will explore Jezero crater, a former Martian lake bed that may be home to fossilized remains of ancient life. But it has to stick the landing first.

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