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A capsule carrying Perseverance will plunge through Mars's atmosphere (left) and a jetpack will fly the rover to a safe landing spot (right). NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Perseverance rover is set to plunge to Mars and land in an ancient lake bed on February 18.

The spacecraft must weather a fiery 12,000-mph plunge, deploy a supersonic parachute, and navigate to safety with a jetpack.

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A realistic NASA animation shows that nail-biting descent in detail.

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NASA's newest interplanetary robot is about to attempt a heart-pounding feat: landing on Mars.

If it reaches Martian ground in one piece, the Perseverance rover will then set about exploring an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater. When the crater was filled with liquid water billions of years ago, scientists believe it could have nurtured microbial life.

Perseverance will scan rocks and mineral deposits in the area for hints of that potential ancient alien life. It will even gather and store a few rock samples for a future mission to bring back to Earth. The rover also carries a small helicopter that's expected to conduct the first drone flights on another planet.

But only half the spacecraft that humanity has ever tried to land on Mars have succeeded. To beat the odds, NASA has tucked Perseverance inside a protective capsule, equipping it with a supersonic parachute and a jetpack to slow its fall and carry it to safety.