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Artist's illustration of Perseverance on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Perseverance rover, which launched to Mars in July, is set to arrive at the Red Planet Thursday.

Why it matters: The rover is expected to hunt for signs of past life in the remains of what scientists think was once a river delta billions of years ago.

What to watch: The rover — which is about the size of a car — should touch down on Mars at about 3:55pm ET, and you can watch live coverage of the event through NASA starting at 2:15pm ET Thursday via NASA TV.

  • Perseverance is expected to land in much the same way as NASA's Curiosity did in 2012 using what's known as a "sky crane maneuver."
  • The rover will speed toward the ground at about 12,000 mph before a parachute and powered descent slow it down. From there, the rover will be lowered to the ground via cables, according to NASA.
  • Perseverance is also carrying a little helicopter as a technology demonstration that's expected to fly sometime after landing.

The intrigue: Curiosity confirmed Mars was once a wet and habitable world, at least for microbial life, and Perseverance is going to build on that work.

  • Its landing site was specifically chosen because river deltas are thought to have some of the best chances for preserving past life, potentially making Perseverance's job a little easier.
  • This is NASA's first rover with a real chance of finding signs of life.
  • "It's what we've been building up to for a long time now," planetary scientist Briony Horgan of Purdue University told Axios before the mission launched.
  • The rover also comes equipped with sampling containers that it will fill with interesting rocks expected to be returned to Earth on a future Mars mission.

The big picture: China and the United Arab Emirates both successfully got their missions into orbit around the Red Planet within a day of one another last week. Now it's on Perseverance to complete the trio that launched last year.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 16, 2021 - Science

Biden takes Trump's lead in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration is staying the course set out by the Trump administration when it comes to space, at least for now.

Why it matters: Administrations often abandon their predecessors' goals in favor of new ones when they come to power. That kind of "moonshot whiplash" can leave NASA stuck on Earth because it takes consistency between administrations to accomplish large exploration goals.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. faces urgent anti-hacker crisis

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Biden administration is accelerating efforts to fill nearly 600,000 vacant cybersecurity positions in the public and private sectors bogging down efforts to protect digital infrastructure.

Why it matters: Following a deluge of ransomware attacks targeting critical government and corporate infrastructure this year, clogs in the talent pipeline are leaving federal, cash-strapped local governments and Big Business even more susceptible to hacking.

Mike Allen, author of AM
6 hours ago - World

Courage vs. coddling with China

Peng Shuai of China serves during the China Open in Beijing in 2017. Photo: Andy Wong/AP

The women's professional tennis tour suspended tournaments in China Wednesday out of concern for Peng Shuai, on the same day that a top business voice made excuses for Beijing.

Why it matters: Ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Beijing, some sports figures are taking on the regime — while Big Business shrinks from confrontation with the world's second-largest economy.