If you stop and think about it, space explorations all involved unmanned vehicles. Most of them are programmed to carry out their maneuvers autonomously. In our mind, that qualifies them as drones. And today, in a testament to the power of engineering and hard work, NASA’s Perseverance is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet.
I’m not an engineer. But I’ve been fortunate enough to work with quite a few of them at two drone startups. And, let me tell you, I’ve got nothing but admiration for the amount of knowledge these men and women have jammed into their brains. I’ve attended flight tests of a fixed-wing VTOL where things got a bit wobbly during transition to forward flight. In a matter of minutes, an engineer had opened up the code, altered a few lines, and the problem was fixed. And don’t get me started on the structural and mechanical wizardry I’ve witnessed.
And now, today, what can only be described as an engineering marvel will attempt to land on Mars.
For the past seven months, the spacecraft has silently traveled roughly 125 million miles toward its destination. Let’s repeat that: 125 million miles, or about a little more than 200 million kilometers.
And that was the easy part. Later today, this amazing piece of technology will come screaming into the Martian atmosphere at a speed of about 13,000 miles per hour. And that sets into motion something NASA engineers refer to as the “Seven Minutes of Terror.” That’s how long it takes to get from the edge of the atmosphere down to the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA posted a really great video that gives you look at the challenges Perseverance will face during those seven minutes.
The countdown is on
It’s not just NASA engineers who will be waiting to see how this final stage goes. Space aficionados around the planet will also be watching, hoping those Seven Minutes of Terror end in triumph.
Assuming all goes well, this drone will launch another drone as part of its mission. The Ingenuity helicopter, which we’ve written about before, will offer up high-resolution views of the surface of Mars, and also be able to travel significant distances in a relatively short period of time.
So take a moment later today, to consider this challenge. And then, hopefully, celebrate the achievement. The touchdown is estimated to take place at around 3:55 p.m. EST.