While so many of us have been staying close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA’s new Perseverance rover has been zooming away from our planet in search of its new home on Mars. Percy officially reached the halfway point between Earth and Mars this week as it closes in on its search for signs of ancient life.
NASA JPL rover navigator Julie Kangas describes the midway point where Percy just crossed:
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission has logged a lot of flight miles since being lofted skyward on July 30 – 146.3 million miles (235.4 million kilometers) to be exact. Turns out that is exactly the same distance it has to go before the spacecraft hits the Red Planet’s atmosphere like an 11,900 mph (19,000 kph) freight train on Feb. 18, 2021.
“At 1:40 p.m. Pacific Time today, our spacecraft will have just as many miles in its metaphorical rearview mirror as it will out its metaphorical windshield,” said Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “While I don’t think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from home, it’s still a pretty neat milestone. Next stop, Jezero Crater.”
But it turns out “halfway” is a nuanced point when traveling between two moving heavenly bodies like Earth and Mars:
“Although we’re halfway into the distance we need to travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” Kangas explained. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front.”
Named after Virginia middle schooler Alex Mather, Perseverance represents the effort required to prepare NASA’s newest Mars rover for liftoff before the limited window to reach Mars from Earth closed. This work all took place in a period when engineers were required to work in smaller groups or remotely when possible.
Perseverance lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 30, 2020, earlier this summer. The Mars rover and its helicopter co-pilot Ingenuity will reach Martian soil on February 18, 2021. Learn more about the mission from Space Explored’s coverage below: