NASA’s Perseverance rover is on the verge of changing humanity’s future. Just over a year after touching down on the red planet, Perseverance is embarking on the most demanding part of its mission to date – striking out at top speed for the sites most likely to house signs of life. To succeed, the team must overcome epic challenges and take Perseverance into uncharted territory: going further than any other rover and traversing jagged terrain - all on a hostile planet 300 million kilometres away from the Earth.
In this unique television event, Professor Brian Cox fulfils a childhood dream by going behind the scenes at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), mission control for Mars 2020 – the mission that may finally reveal if life ever existed on the Red Planet.
In 1980, a young Brian Cox wrote to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory asking for photos from some of their missions to the planets. The pictures they sent him from Voyager and the Viking mission to Mars were a source of inspiration that set him on the path to becoming a physicist.
Now, over 40 years later, he has been granted privileged access to JPL – to witness the workings of the mission as it guides the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter (the first powered aircraft we have ever sent to another planet) across the surface of Mars.
Over the course of a week, he follows the rover’s every move as it navigates its way across the floor of Jezero Crater towards the remains of an ancient river delta – that may contain the evidence of ancient life on Mars. He will come face to face with the engineering models – the identical twins – of both the helicopter and the rover as it is put through its paces in JPL’s Mars Yard, a little bit of Mars on Earth. And he will join the rover drivers whose job it is to plot the rover’s route through the hazardous terrain of the Martian surface.
In the process, Brian Cox will reveal how the mission could radically change our understanding of life not just on Mars but Earth as well. If NASA’s team succeeds, they will transform our knowledge of life in the universe and redefine humanity’s future. This is the inside story of their quest into the unknown.