Update: The landing was a success! Check out the video above to relive the exciting moment from atmospheric entry to the landing and the first pictures from the surface.
New vehicle debuts don't happen every day. That's especially true when the debut takes place on another freaking planet. If everything goes according to plan, that's exactly what we'll see today in a special livestream from NASA, as its Perseverance Mars Rover touches down on the Red Planet. The livestream is running now, with a landing estimated at 3:55 p.m. EST / 12:55 p.m. PST.
In many ways, Perseverance is very much a rugged vehicle designed for the ultimate off-road environment. For starters, it's not small – at 10 feet long and 7 feet tall, it's very much the size of a small car. It's nearly equivalent to a Mitsubishi Mirage and four feet shy of the recently revealed Honda HR-V. Of course, it doesn't have any provisions for passengers, but it does have a bevy of cameras and instruments designed to explore and study Mars in greater detail than ever before.
Gallery: NASA Perseverance Mars Rover
Its six-wheel undercarriage is articulated, allowing the rover to tackle surprisingly difficult terrain. Of course, it needs to be self-sufficient as there is absolutely no road service to call in the event of an emergency. Once established on the surface, Perseverance will be tasked with searching for signs of life that may have existed in Mars' distant past, when possible liquid water flowed on the planet's surface.
Before any of that exploring can begin, however, Perseverance first needs to make it to the ground. Known as the "seven minutes of terror," the rover will descend through the Martian atmosphere in a complex, automated sequence that involves parachutes, jetpacks, and critical timing to make sure everything happens when it should. Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, NASA controllers can't operate the equipment in real-time – a delay of approximately 20 minutes means the spacecraft must handle everything on its own.
That also means we won't know if the touchdown is successful until sometime after its planned 3:55 p.m. EST landing. It's not an easy task, especially with the landing zone being Jezero Crater – a wide basin filled with rocks that scientists believe was once an ancient river delta. In fact, it's the most difficult landing NASA has ever attempted on Mars, but the potential for discovery makes it worth the risk.
Join us in cheering for NASA as we bear witness to this exciting and historic moment.