Why it’s so difficult for NASA to land rover on Mars

NASA scientist explains what makes it so tough to land on Mars

A NASA rover streaked toward a landing on Mars on Thursday in the riskiest step yet in an epic quest to bring back rocks that could answer whether life ever existed on the red planet.
A NASA rover streaked toward a landing on Mars on Thursday in the riskiest step yet in an epic quest to bring back rocks that could answer whether life ever existed on the red planet.

Here’s a look at how NASA’s Perseverance rover will attempt to land on Mars on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.

Dr. Roger Weins, a NASA scientist, explained why it’s so difficult to land on the Red Planet.

“Partly because of the very thin air on Mars. It’s only 1 percent as thick as Earth’s atmosphere,” said Weins. “So it first starts with an aeroshell, with inflation material, that helps to slow the capsule down from 12,000 mph to a few hundred mph, and then the parachute comes out. But with that thin air on Mars, that only slows it down to several hundred mph, and that’s not good enough to land at all. After that, you have to use retro rockets. Both the Curiosity rover and now Perseverance have something that is called a descent module, which uses retro rockets, and then a sky crane that lowers the rover on ropes down to the ground, which is a crazy idea but it works.”

It take 11 and 1/2 minutes to communication to get from Mars to Earth. Those will be a very tense 11 minutes.


About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.