Watch NASA's Mars Perseverance rover launch live

Katie Ramirez
July 30, 2020

The ULA Atlas V rocket, dubbed the Dominator, will commence takeoff at 7:50 a.m. Thursday carrying the Perseverance rover as part of the Mars 2020 mission.

NASA scientists don't expect to be able to confirm the existence of life on Mars using the instruments on Perseverance, however - they think they can find strong indications that the conditions and materials necessary for life once existed, but the ultimate proof could come from the ambitious Mars sample return mission being planned for 2026.

The rocket must complete a series of complex manoeuvres as it speeds through Earth's atmosphere, jettisoning outer layers and firing engines at the right moments to push Perseverance onto its path to Mars.

The six-wheeled, nuclear-powered robot is designed for a primary mission lasting at least one Martian year, which is the equivalent of almost two Earth years.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the area surrounding the launch pad was restricted, but hundreds of thousands of people watched the liftoff via streaming video.

On Thursday morning, NASA will launch its fifth Mars rover: a robotic scientist the size of an SUV.

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If all goes well, Perseverance will be the fifth Mars rover mission managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and also the fifth successful Mars rover landing overall (unless China's lands first). It will join Perseverance on its trip to Mars - scouting out routes for the rover.

Perseverance is scheduled to land at Mars' Jezero Crater (below) on February 18 and will, for the first time, record its harrowing descent to the surface that NASA calls the "seven minutes of terror", so named for the amount of time engineers must wait to confirm a successful touchdown. Called Ingenuity, the helicopter will serve to test powered flight on another world for the first time.

NASA is going to send its next rover to Mars on July 30 - if everything goes to plan.

The momentum from the launch and a big boost from Earth's rotation should carry the spacecraft over 314 million miles to reach Mars in February 2021. That rover would fetch the samples and put them into a capsule, which would in turn be loaded onto a mini-rocket and launched into Martian orbit. NASA said it will accomplish this through cooperation with the European Space Agency. This crater earlier used to be filled with water, and instruments on the rover will examine it for signs of ancient microbial life.

All together, this mission is expected to help us better understand Mars, and is being counted as one of the first steps towards sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. "But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on the eve of launch.

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