NASA’s next Mars rover is halfway to its otherworldly destination.
The Mars 2020 rover Perseverance, which launched on July 30, has now traveled 146 million miles (235 million kilometers) in deep space — half of the total required to reach the Red Planet, mission team members announced Tuesday (Oct. 27).
“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,” Julie Kangas, a mission navigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said in a statement Tuesday. “Next stop, Jezero Crater.”
The 28-mile-wide (45 km) Jezero, where Perseverance will touch down on Feb. 18, hosted a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. The car-size rover will characterize the area’s geology and climate in detail and search for possible signs of long-dead life, among other tasks.
Perseverance will also collect and cache several dozen samples from the Martian terrain for future return to Earth. The return campaign, a joint NASA-European Space Agency effort, could get this precious Mars material here as early as 2031.
In addition, Perseverance carries on its belly a small helicopter named Ingenuity, a demonstration craft designed to help pave the way for extensive rotorcraft exploration of Mars in the future.
The rover reached the exact halfway point in its interplanetary journey — 146.3 million miles (235.4 million km) — at 4:40 p.m. EDT (2040 GMT) Tuesday, NASA officials said. But Perseverance is taking a curving route to Mars, so the spacecraft is not midway between the two planets as the space-crow flies.
“In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million km] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million km] in front,” Kangas said.
The Perseverance team hasn’t been sitting on its hands during the mission’s current “cruise phase.” Over the past two weeks, for example, team members have performed checkouts of four different rover instruments. Everything is working well, NASA officials said.
“If it is part of our spacecraft and electricity runs through it, we want to confirm it is still working properly following launch,” mission deputy chief engineer Keith Comeaux, also of JPL, said in the same statement.
“Between these checkouts — along with charging the rover’s and Mars Helicopter’s batteries, uploading files and sequences for surface operations, and planning for and executing trajectory correction maneuvers — our plate is full right up to landing,” Comeaux said.
You can track the rover’s deep-space trek in real time here.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.