In July 2020, a car-sized robot began an intrepid journey to another world. NASA's Perseverance rover is currently on its way to Mars, traveling through deep space and set to land on the Red Planet by February, 2021.
NASA released a new tool that lets you go along for the ride, following the rover's journey to Mars in real time.
The tool is called Eyes on the Solar System, and users can log on to see the distance between Perseverance rover and Mars at any given moment, as well as the rest of the robot's trajectory to the Red Planet.
The interactive website also lets you see where the rover is located in terms of the entire Solar System, and the current view from the spacecraft.
"Eyes on the Solar System visualizes the same trajectory data that the navigation team uses to plot Perseverance's course to Mars," Fernando Abilleira, the Mars 2020 mission design and navigation manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement. "If you want to follow along with us on our journey, that's the place to be."
The Perseverance rover launched at 7:50 a.m. Eastern on July 30. The timely liftoff took place at the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the rover was strapped onto a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket.
Perseverance isn't venturing to Mars on its own. The Ingenuity helicopter hitched a ride with the rover, and it will allow NASA to test out flying a helicopter on a planet other than Earth for the first time.
An hour into its flight, and Perseverance separated from the rocket and officially began its journey to Mars. The rover also sent a signal, or 'phoned home,' shortly after separation through the Deep Space Network, which manages communication with the spacecraft.
Perseverance is scheduled to reach the Red Planet on February 18, 2021.
The robot will land on the Jezero Crater, a 28-mile wide, 500-meter-deep crater located in a basin slightly north of the Martian equator. Jezero Crater once housed a lake estimated to have dried out 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.
Once it lands on Mars, Perseverance will begin hunting for clues of past microbial life that may have existed during the Red Planet's early history. The robot will collect samples of rocks and soil and set them aside for the first ever sample return mission from another planet. The rock samples will be stored away in tubes in a well-identified place on the Martian surface, and left there to be returned to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.
NASA's Eyes on the Solar System tool gives a closer look at Mars, as well as other objects of the Solar System, using real-time data and imagery from NASA's fleet of orbiting spacecraft, and older data that goes back as far as 1950.
"With all our orbital assets circling Mars as well as Curiosity and InSight on its surface, there is new data and imagery coming in all the time about the Red Planet," Jon Nelson, visualization technology and applications development supervisor at JPL, said in a statement. "Essentially, if you haven't seen Mars lately through Eyes on the Solar System, you haven't seen Mars."