It has been three months since NASA’s Perseverance rover launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida at the start of its epic journey to Mars.
The latest news out of NASA is that Perseverance is making good progress toward the Martian world, on Tuesday reaching the halfway stage of its voyage.
That means the rover has now completed a staggering 146 million miles of spaceflight, with the same distance left to go before it attempts the crucial landing phase of the mission in February 2021.
Perseverance delivered the update in a tweet, saying: “I’m officially halfway to the Red Planet. Since launch, I’ve logged 146 million miles (235 million km), and have the same to go. System checkouts are going well as I barrel toward my date with Mars: Feb 18, 2021.”
I’m officially halfway to the Red Planet. Since launch, I’ve logged 146 million miles (235 million km), and have the same to go. System checkouts are going well as I barrel toward my date with Mars: Feb 18, 2021. https://t.co/uA1s8gd4ce #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/nCISUVjCUi
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) October 27, 2020
Reporting on the same news, Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, wrote in an article: “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,” adding, “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 Crater.”
The gravitational influence of the sun plays a major part in shaping spacecraft trajectories to Mars (and everywhere else in the solar system), and also affects the relative movement of the two planets, NASA explained. Therefore, Perseverance’s route to Mars follows a curved trajectory instead of an arrow-straight path.
It means that although the rover is halfway into the distance needed to travel to Mars, it’s not halfway between the two worlds. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million km] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million km] in front,” Kangas said.
As Perseverance continues its interplanetary voyage, the mission team is performing constant checks on the spacecraft’s systems to ensure everything is in order.
“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 mission.
If you’d like to track Perseverance’s position in space as the rover approaches its destination, there’s an easy way to do it.
The primary goals of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission include searching for signs of ancient life, gathering rock and soil samples for return to Earth at a later date, and collecting data for future human exploration of the distant planet.
While NASA’s Perseverance rover will perform most of the work, the mission will also see an aircraft fly for the very first time on another planet when the diminutive Ingenuity helicopter, which is traveling with Perseverance, lifts off from the Martian surface for its debut flight.
NASA’s mission isn’t the only one heading for Mars at this moment, with others from China and the United Arab Emirates also expected to reach the planet in February 2021.
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