NASA’s Perseverance rover left Earth behind forever on July 30th, and there won’t be much to say about the mission until it reaches Mars in February 2021. However, you can check in on the rover any time you want using NASA’s “Eyes on the Solar System” tool. There, you can follow the mission’s progress as it heads for the red planet.
The NASA Eyes software is a simulation of the solar system that shows the locations of planets, moons, and NASA’s most notable missions in real-time. There is a full desktop application you can install for what NASA calls a “more immersive” experience. However, if you just want to check out the planets and the locations of a few robotic explorers, the web-based version is good enough.
NASA says it would be too daunting to deliver live updates on all its ongoing missions, but you can see Perseverance, Parker, New Horizons, and a few ESA missions. There are also live locations for the planets, dwarf planets, and other objects of note like the asteroid Bennu. You can click and drag to rotate your view, and the scroll wheel zooms. In the corner, you have quality and lighting options. Clicking on Mars 2020 also brings up an info panel with basic stats and links to get more information.
The desktop program does, indeed, have a lot more to offer. You can lock onto Perseverance or any other included mission to see its current location. Then, you can advance or rewind time to see where it was or will be. If you want, you can follow Mars 2020 all the way from Earth to Mars, but don’t expect a fancy animation of the landing. The spacecraft simply runs into Mars at the appropriate time in this simulation. Still, it’s going to be interesting to glance at the live view as we get nearer to the landing. If you’re using the desktop app, you can fast-forward to get a preview now.
Perseverance is NASA’s followup to the massively successful Curiosity rover. The new vehicle has some design improvements, more advanced instruments, and a helicopter drone that will hopefully become the first flying machine on another planet. Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater on February 18. 2021. The spacecraft should reach the planet earlier than that, but it will wait until the predetermined moment to begin the autonomous landing. We’ll know a few minutes later if Perseverance follows in Curiosity’s steps with a perfect landing.
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