NASA's Mars rover Perseverance will face "seven minutes of terror" before landing on the red planet.
The space probe will be making its final, self-guided descent to Mars on Thursday, with engineers warning: "Success is never assured."
Al Chen, head of the descent and landing team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called it the most critical and dangerous part of the expensive $2.7billion mission (£1.94m).
The six-wheeled rover is expected to take seven minutes to descend from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet's surface in less time than the 11-minute radio transmission back to Earth.
He said: "Success is never assured. And that's especially true when we're trying to land the biggest, heaviest and most complicated rover we've ever built to the most dangerous site we've ever attempted to land at."
Success will hinge on a complex sequence of events unfolding without a hitch – from inflation of a giant, supersonic parachute to deployment of a jet-powered “sky crane” that will descend to a safe landing spot and hover above the surface while lowering the rover to the ground on a tether.
Mr Chen added: "Perseverance has to do this all on her own.
"We can't help it during this period."
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Perseverance is NASA's fifth Mars rover and this trip follows almost 20 outings to the planet dating back to Mariner 4's 1965 flyby.
Scientists hope it may set the stage to conclusively show whether life has existed beyond Earth while eventually paving for way for human missions to the Red Planet.
If everything goes to plan NASA's team will receive a follow-up radio signal shortly before 9pm GMT confirming the probe has landed on Martian soil at the edge of an ancient, long-vanished river delta and lake bed.
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This week marks the final stretch of a 293million-mile, seven-month journey from Earth.
Advanced power tolls will drill samples from Martian rock and seal them into tubes for their eventual return to Earth for further analysis, the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from the surface of another planet.
Two future missions to retrieve those samples and fly them back to Earth are in the planning stages by NASA, in collaboration with the European Space Agency.
Perseverance features a small drone helicopter that will test surface-to-surface powered flight on another world for the first time.
The mission's first hurdle is delivering the rover intact to the floor of Jerezo Crater, a 28-mile-wide expanse that scientists believe may harbour a rich trove of fossilised microorganisms.
Project scientist Ken Farley said: "It is a spectacular landing site."
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