The Mars landing is touted as NASA’s toughest and most precise touchdown attempt to date. Perseverance is targetting an ancient impact crater, known as Jezero, aiming to safely land within the 28-mile wide feature. NASA’s scientists hand-picked Jezero from among many candidates due to it likely being filled with water nearly 4 billion years ago.
The Mars rover will explore the lakebed in search of fossilised alien life.
And for the very first time, the rover will collect and store rock and soil samples for retrieval in the 2030s.
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said: “Perseverance is NASA’s most ambitious Mars rover mission yet, focused scientifically on finding out whether there was ever any life on Mars in the past.
“To answer this question, the landing team will have its hands full getting us to Jezero Crater – the most challenging Martian terrain ever targetted for a landing.”
READ MORE: Watch in the UK NASA’s Perseverance landing on Mars today
What time will NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars?
The timing of today’s Mars landing is complicated by an 11 minute and 25 second delay in communications between Mars and Earth.
The landing sequence only lasts about seven minutes, which means the rover will have already landed by the time NASA receives confirmation of Perseverance entering the Martian atmosphere.
And if all goes according to plan, NASA expects the rover will confirm a safe touchdown by 8.55pm GMT (3.55pm EST).
Before that happens, the Perseverance will need to tick off every stage of its complex landing sequence.
The landing sequence will begin with the rover’s descent capsule separating from its spacecraft at 8.38pm GMT (3.38pm EST).
Perseverance will then dive into the planet’s atmosphere at 8.49pm GMT (3.49 EST), reaching speeds of about 12,000mph.
A minute later, the friction of plummeting through the atmosphere will heat the spacecraft’s heat shield to about 1,300C.
At 8.52pm GMT (3.52pm EST) the rover will deploy its large supersonic parachute – the biggest parachute NASA has ever sent to Mars.
About 20 seconds later, the heat shield will jettison and expose Perseverance to the elements.
At 8.54pm GMT (3.54pm EST) the entry capsule’s backplate and parachute will separate and Perseverance will fire its jetpack, the Skycrane.
The Skycrane is a mobile platform armed with eight rocket engines that will gently drop Perseverance to the ground.
The engines will slow the rover down to about 1.7mph and lower it on a set of nylon cables.
Once Perseverance’s six wheels touch down, Skycrane will detach and fly off a safe distance to crash.
The exact timings of these events can still be affected by a number of external and internal factors.
NASA is, however, positive the rover’s pre-programmed instructions will get the job done – as they have on five past occasions.
Perseverance is the fifth rover NASA has sent to Mars and, if it lands today, it will join the Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner rovers.
Marc Etkind, NASA Associate Administrator for Communications, said: “If there’s one thing we know, it’s landing on Mars is never easy.
“But as NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance has an extraordinary engineering pedigree and mission teams.”