What you need to know about NASA’s next mission to Mars

A rocket launches from Cape Canaveral.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, July 30, 2020.
Joel Kowsky | NASA

Next week, after almost seven months and 300 million miles of space travel, NASA’s Perseverance rover will reach Mars. Once there, if all goes as planned, it will plummet through the Martian atmosphere, deploy a parachute and a jetpack to slow its descent, and finally touch down on an ancient lake bed. And the whole thing will be filmed by six cameras, which could lead to the first video footage ever of a spacecraft landing on another planet.

It’s a final “seven minutes of terror” for NASA scientists working on the mission. They can do little but wait and watch while Perseverance attempts to nail the landing. But if it works, it launches a new era of Mars exploration. The hope is to use the car-sized rover to search for mineral deposits on the surface of the Red Planet that could contain signs of ancient microbial life.

On Wednesday, MPR News host Kerri Miller talked all things Mars with two scientists studying the planet. What do they hope to learn? And does this mission move us one step closer to sending humans there?


  • Nagin Cox is an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the deputy team chief of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover engineering team.

  • Michael Thorpe is a geologist and a Mars sample return scientist at NASA.

Editor’s note (Feb. 10, 2021): A previous version of this story listed Kirsten Siebach as one of the guests. She was unable to join us for the discussion.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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