MELBOURNE, Fla. — Perseverance, a car-sized, nuclear-powered NASA rover, is approaching Mars, ready to make an historic landing at 3:55 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday.

What You Need To Know

  • Perseverance to land on Mars at 3:55 p.m. ET Thursday

  • Mission to try to find out if life ever existed on the Red Planet

  • Tiny helicopter is part of the equipment it will include

  • Florida Tech professors, students watching mission closely

The waiting is almost over for people following the mission.

"It's looking for ancient signs of life," Florida Tech senior Chloe Klare said, excitement rising in her voice.

Klare, about to get her degree in both astrophysics and math sciences on her way to her future career as a professor, has been following the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission since it launched from the Space Coast in July.

“I think it's cool Mars is close enough we can go there and get data," Klare said. "I took orbital mechanics, to learn how you would get there."

Perseverance’s destination is Jezero Crater, an ancient, 28-mile-wide lake bed that has never been explored. 

“It's a legacy mission with a bunch of new components," Florida Tech Physics Space Sciences Chairperson Csaba Palotai said. "There's new science involved, so it's all exciting."

The rover has a full tool belt of gadgets to study the surface — a large robotic arm, two dozen cameras, audio capabilities, and several scientific pieces of equipment.

The yearlong goal includes studying Mars’s climate and geology. The rover will drill and collect core samples of selected rocks and soil, preserving them for scientific study on Earth.

Its sidekick, the “Ingenuity” drone helicopter, will serve as a scout, mapping out rough terrain, boulders, and mountains.

If the tiny copter flies successfully during the mission, it will become the first aircraft to fly on another planet.

Back on Earth, the mission is a learning experience for Klare and her fellow students.

"We can incorporate the data coming back into our astrobiology program," Palotai said.

(Jon Shaban/Spectrum News)

The mission also will help turn science fiction into science fact.

"It's very like 'Star Treky', and wow, that's something that could happen in real life because of missions like this," Klare said.