The six-wheeled robotic explorer, named Perseverance, will begin its dramatic descent to the surface of Mars today and tackle what is called the "seven minutes of terror".
Editor's Choice: NASA Is About To Land A Historic Rover On Mars
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that landing on Mars is never easy.
Marc Etkind, NASA
Those seven minutes is roughly the amount of time it takes for Perseverance to leave the spacecraft and touch down on Mars, but there are several treacherous obstacles in between.
During that time, the rover will plunge through the martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph and the only thing to stop it is a massive parachute.
Once the parachute is deployed, Perseverance will make its perilous descent to a never-before-explored crater on Mars that may hold undiscovered microbial life.
"The problem is, it's a much more hazardous place to land," said Mars 2020 Flight Director Matt Smith in a video explaining the rover's mission.
When Perseverance is close enough to the ground, the parachute will detach and rockets will steer the rover to a (hopefully) safe landing spot.
"All you see is danger. How do we go to a site that we never thought was safe enough to go to before," said Al Chen, Lead — Mars 2020 Entry, Descent, and Landing.
This stage of the descent takes Perseverance all the way down to about 20 meters off the ground, which is when a "sky crane" will place the rover on the surface of Mars and release its cables.
If completed successfully, Perseverance will have made it through the "seven minutes of terror," but really that's only the beginning.
"[Perseverance's] job [...] to go look for those signs of past life on Mars... All that can't start until we get Persevarance safely to the ground. And then, that's when the real mission begins," said Chen.
NASA's live stream of Perseverance's entry, descent, and landing will begin at 2:15 p.m. EST today.
The rover is expected to make touchdown on Mars at approximately 3:55 p.m. EST.