The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will touch down in Jezero Crater on Thursday. According to engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mission is healthy and on target to land.
Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said that Perseverance is NASA's most ambitious Mars rover mission yet. It will focus 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 targeted for a landing," Thomas said.
Jezero is a basin where scientists believe an ancient river flowed into a lake and deposited sediments in a fan shape known as a delta. Scientists think the environment in Jezero Crater was likely to have preserved signs of any life that gained a foothold billions of years ago -- but Jezero also has steep cliffs, sand dunes, and boulder fields.
Landing on Mars is difficult -- only about 50 per cent of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded -- and these geological features make it even more so.
The Perseverance team is building on lessons from previous touchdowns and employing new technologies that enable the spacecraft to target its landing site more accurately and avoid hazards autonomously.
"No Mars landing is guaranteed, but we have been preparing a decade to put this rover's wheels down on the surface of Mars and get to work," Thomas said.
Meanwhile, people can watch the drama of Perseverance's entry, descent, and landing live on NASA TV.