After a nearly seven-month journey spanning almost 300 million miles, the NASA rover known as Perseverance will land on Mars Thursday afternoon.
SUZANNE MARQUES: Before the rover lands it must make the first, most difficult landing ever attempted on Mars. CBS2's Tina Patel is live at NASA's JPL in Pasadena where a team of scientists are making it happen. Tina, exciting day.
TINA PATEL: Very exciting, Suzanne. We are standing in front of a model of the Perseverance. It is hard to believe that the real thing is about to land on Mars in less than two hours. Take a look at how and why this is all happening.
The Mars rover Perseverance has already traveled millions of miles, but the last stretch down to the surface of the red planet will be the riskiest.
CHLOE SACKIER: We're landing in a place called Jezero crater, which is the site of an ancient lake bed in Mars and a river delta. And terrain-wise, it's kind of a dangerous place to land. There's a massive cliff in the middle. There are all of these boulders.
TINA PATEL: But this rover, the heaviest and most advanced ever built by NASA JPL, was engineered to navigate the landing on its own.
BETHANY EHLMANN: It can sense a hazard. It's imaging as it goes. And if it sees that it's descending down on a hazard it will divert a few meters this way until it finds a safe patch.
TINA PATEL: Why take the risk? Because the mission for Perseverance and Ingenuity, the first helicopter ever sent to another planet, is to find out if life ever existed there.
BETHANY EHLMANN: The history is written in the rocks, so we want to look at rocks. And if you go to the flattest place you're not going to see them. You're going to be driving over sand. So you want to go somewhere where there are at least a few small cliffs. Right? So you can actually read the record in the rocks.
TINA PATEL: And see if one day Mars might be able to sustain life again. If today goes as planned, scientists could figure that out.
CHLOE SACKIER: I think it's very easy to fall into engineering mode where it is just solving one problem at a time, but it's very important to take a step back and look at the big picture, which is we're trying to answer some of the questions that humans have been asking for ages. So it's very exciting.
TINA PATEL: It is really exciting. And I'm joined now by Jackie Sly, a roboticist, who's been working on this project for four years. How are you feeling right now?
JACKIE SLY: Oh, I have butterflies. It's so exciting. It's really a culmination of so many years of work, both by myself and thousands of people on our team. So.
TINA PATEL: Tell me what's happening right now. Is there anything left for you or other people to do? Or is it kind of automated from here on out?
JACKIE SLY: It's really automated. We've written these sequences, we've tested these sequences so many times, so my team members in EDL, the entry descent and landing team, they're watching the telemetry. But it's really Perseverance's show. It's her time to shine and we're all just here waiting to see how it will go.
TINA PATEL: We'll we're very excited. Thank you so much for letting us be a part of it. We're excited to see how it goes today. And then, of course, excited to see how the entire mission goes over the next few years. Because, of course, the landing? Just one step to answering those questions about what's really happening on Mars. Suzanne, we'll send it back to you.
SUZANNE MARQUES: Thank you, Tina. Just first have to stick that landing. We have our fingers crossed and you'll be watching. Thank you, Tina.