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NASA’s Perseverance rover just hit a major milestone in space

Published Oct 28th, 2020 8:42PM EDT
perseverance mars
Image: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

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  • NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Mars 2020 mission just nailed a huge milestone on its way to the Red Planet.
  • The spacecraft has passed the halfway point on its route to Mars and is still on course for a landing in February 2021.
  • The rover and its helicopter companion are healthy and doing well.

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission just barely got off the ground in time for its trip to Mars. The window to fire off a payload to the Red Planet was closing rapidly when NASA finally managed to send its Perseverance rover and Mars helicopter Ingenuity skyward. Now, after months of traveling, the mission has hit a huge milestone, and it didn’t even really have to do anything to accomplish it.

As NASA notes in its latest mission update, the Perseverance rover mission just passed the 146,300,000 mile mark on its journey to Mars. That means it’s reached its halfway point and is now closer to its rendevous with Mars than it is to its own home planet, following the same path in reverse.

The mission itself is sure to reveal many of the Red Planet’s secrets to eager scientists, but before it can actually do that, it has to reach Mars and land safely. Monitoring it every step of the way, NASA obviously has a lot of interest in its exact position in space at any given point. Now that it’s over halfway done with its one-way trip to Mars, the excitement over the Mars 2020 mission is growing rapidly.

“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,” Julie Kangas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. “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.”

It’s important to note that while the rover is indeed at the halfway point of its journey, that doesn’t mean it’s right in the middle of the two worlds. Because our planet and Mars are both constantly moving around the Sun, the trip isn’t a straight line. The rover is actually a lot closer to Mars (around 18 million miles) than it is to Earth (over 26 million miles). So in terms of how far away the rover is from Earth, it’s long since passed that halfway point.

The rover is slated to land on Mars in February, at which point it will undergo a series of tests to ensure its instruments are working as intended and it will then begin its science mission in earnest. Along with the rover, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter will also have its time to shine, and if everything goes as planned it will become the first powered aircraft to take to the skies of another planet.

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