NASA will attempt to land a one-ton rover on the dusty surface of Mars today as part of its ongoing quest to explore whether life once lived on the Red Planet.
The Perseverance rover is nearing the end of its seven-month journey to another world after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in July 2020.
Once on Mars – assuming it survives the landing – the six-wheeled machine will collect rock samples that will later be analysed for signs of fossilised alien microbes.
A small helicopter strapped to Perseverance’s belly will attempt the first powered flight on the Red Planet.
Nasa says that the mission will also pave the way for future manned trips to Mars. The space agency hopes to land astronauts there in the 2030s.
Before all that though, there’s the not-so-small task of safely landing a car-sized laboratory on the planet after plunging through the Martian atmosphere at 12,000mph (19,000kph).
According to Nasa, Perseverance is scheduled to touch down at 3.44pm ET (8.44pm GMT).
We won’t know whether the mission was successful until the first signal pinged from the Martian surface reaches mission control on Earth about 11 minutes later.
Nasa is attempting to land the rover in the Jezero crater, a 30-mile-wide (49km) dent just north of the Martian equator.
Scientists believe the crater was once filled with water and may have been home to microscopic life billions of years ago.
It’s an area considered too dangerous for previous rovers, but Nasa has a few tricks up its sleeve to avoid various pitfalls scattered across the basin.
It’ll be a white knuckle ride steered entirely by the landing craft’s onboard computer systems. No pressure – the mission, named Mars 2020, only cost a poultry $2.7billion…
Follow our Perseverance live blog for the latest news and updates…