It’s “Mars madness” day for space fans as the life-seeking Perseverance rover mission targets an epic landing on the Red Planet today (Feb. 18).
In the hours before touchdown, you can enhance the experience by watching a recent NASA documentary. In September, NASA’s YouTube channel released the 23-minute video “Countdown to Mars: A Story of Perseverance.” It follows former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as he meets with rover teams ahead of the mission launch July 30, 2020.
“When you look at the team that put this robot together, and the team that put this launch vehicle together, that’s what they’ve done. They’ve persevered,” NASA said in a YouTube video description, quoting a line from the documentary.
You can watch the Mars landing live here and on Space.com’s homepage, courtesy of NASA. The webcast begins at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT), with the landing confirmation expected at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT).
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The video is not only filled with historical references to an epic Mars launch, but the masks on various workers filmed in the documentary attest to another moment in history in the background: the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced worldwide shutdowns only four months before launch.
Workers on Perseverance suddenly needed to implement new physical distancing protocols for safety. Also, the launch party — which usually draws tens of thousands of ordinary people to the launch site, along with hundreds of journalists — was sharply restricted to mostly essential folks only, to lessen the risk of virus spread.
Perseverance rover’s Mars landing: Everything you need to know
NASA worked hard to get the Perseverance launch finished on time with these new changes. The agency was lucky as the European-Russian ExoMars mission (also set to launch in 2020) was forced into a delay until 2022 in part due to the pandemic, and in part due to ongoing parachute problems.
At video’s end, you do see Bridenstine witnessing the flawless launch to the Red Planet, in a small group of people all wearing masks. Just before the liftoff is shown on screen, he shares with the documentary team how he was feeling.
“Every time we launch into space, it is nerve-wracking. There’s nothing at that point you’re going to do to stop it. That rocket goes, it’s going,” said Bridenstine, who stepped down this January with the arrival of the new Joe Biden presidential administration.
The acting administrator who will witness Perseverance’s landing attempt on Mars is Steve Jurczyk, who was appointed to the position Jan. 20 while the new administration seeks a replacement. Jurczyk has been the agency’s associate administrator since May 2018, according to his NASA biography, and has worked at NASA since 1988.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.