RUSH: Okay, folks, you know me. I’m a person fascinated with tech, such as what your phone can do, your i-devices, your computer, what have you. But there’s something coming up that literally amazes me, and it’s a thing that just boggles my mind, that we as human beings have the power to do this.
NASA is about to land another rover on Mars. It’s called Perseverance. It’s scheduled to land on November the 18th, I believe. The landing sequence is automated so NASA engineers can’t do anything but sit back and hope for the best. Well, what are the obstacles? Well, the spacecraft has about 25 million miles to go in its 292-million-mile trip.
It’s currently closing the distance at 1.6 miles per second. Now, once at the top of the Martian atmosphere, an action-packed seven minutes begin. That is the time of the descent through the Martian atmosphere to the surface of the planet. In addition, or as part of this, the temperatures that will reach the surface of the spacecraft will be equivalent to the temperatures on the surface of the sun.
And it will not melt, if all goes well. It will not evaporate. It will not vaporize. It will not be destroyed. It will be able to withstand temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun. Then the first supersonic parachute inflation happens. All of this has to happen on a sequence that controllers will have no control over because of the distance between Mars and earth.
Controlling the spacecraft in real time is out of the question. It takes minutes for a command from NASA on earth to reach the Perseverance rover. So it’s up to the spacecraft and the software that’s been written to execute numerous tasks at split-second timing. And it also has to account for any variables that could threaten the descent and landing.
It has to recognize something out of whack and make an adjustment, make an adaptation. Because, unlike landing on the Moon — the Moon’s “close enough,” quote-unquote — where we could send alternate landing instructions. But Mars is so far away that all we can do is sit there and watch for seven minutes as this spacecraft plummets.
The Martian atmosphere reaches temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun! Parachutes have to deploy. It has to land at the exact speed. If it doesn’t, damage could happen. The rover could be destroyed at any phase of this landing, and nobody can stop it if something goes wrong, because of how long it takes a command instruction sent from earth to reach the rover, which is at the point in time will be in orbit around Mars.
Now, this just fascinates me, and I understand these controllers are gonna be biting their nails and going nuts during these seven minutes being unable to correct anything. And for much of the seven minutes, because of the heat generated by reentry, they won’t be able to have any communication with the rover at all. But even so, whatever communication they get would be delayed because of how far Mars is.