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Breaking down the dangers NASA’s rover must survive to land on Mars

Perseverance will face many obstacles before landing

We think that it’s safe to say that anything NASA does or creates is worth millions.

According to The Planetary Society, a nonprofit founded by Bill Nye, Perseverance has a total price tag of over $2.7 billion. To get a better understanding of how much it costs to run a Mars rover, consider the following:

ItemsPrice
Spacecraft Development$2.2 billion
Launch Services (Atlas V 541)$243 million
Prime Mission Operations (2 years)$300 million
Total$2.725 billion

However, the total dollar amount does not include the costs of the Ingenuity helicopter which cost $80 million to construct. There is also the $5 million that it costs to run the copter for 30 days, according to The Planetary Society.

[MORE: NASA is about to land the first tiny helicopter on Mars]

With so much money flowing into the new Perseverance rover you can’t help but wonder, could the mission fail?

NASA associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen described the mission as “one of the hardest things ever done by humanity and certainly in space science.”

[READ NEXT: Mars landing is just the beginning of a decade-long sample-return mission]

Now, we hate to be negative the day before the landing, but only about 40% of the missions ever sent to Mars have been successful, according to NASA.

The spacecraft carrying Perseverance will hit the Martian atmosphere traveling at over 12,500 mph. The rover’s landing has been dubbed “seven minutes of terror.”

“Entry, Descent landing is the most critical and most dangerous part of the mission success is never assured. And that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the biggest heaviest and most complicated rover we’ve ever built,” Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead Allen Chen said.

Here’s a quick recap of what is supposed to happen come landing day:

  • Perseverance will deploy a large 70-foot-diameter parachute
  • The heat shield protecting the rover during entry will jettison away
  • During the last mile of descent, Perseverance will fire up its engines slowing it down to about 1.5 mph
  • Perseverance will lower itself from a rocket-powered jetpack descent stage and maneuver in for a gentle touchdown

Pretty simple right? It’s only rocket science.

During the descent, NASA teams will be in the dark, hence the scariest seven minutes of the mission. Perseverance will be in charge of its fate and teams back on Earth won’t know everything worked until they get confirmation that Perseverance is on the ground and running.

During a news conference, NASA engineers listed off reasons that could cause the landing process to go wrong.

Some of which include: rocks, craters and dunes. Oh, did we also mention there’s a 250-foot cliff near the landing site?

“We certainly don’t want to land on that,” Erisa Stilley, Perseverance entry, descent and landing engineer said when referring to the cliff.

However, using a new navigation system the rover’s team hopes to avoid those perils as it comes down for landing.

If all goes according to plan, touchdown will happen at 3:55 p.m. EST.

So, place your bets.