NASA's Mars rover launches successfully

Katie Ramirez
August 1, 2020

A United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Perseverance rover lifted off Thursday from a launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida as part of the Mars 2020 mission.

The mission - created to better understand the geology and climate of Mars and seek signs of ancient life on the Red Planet - will use the robotic scientist to collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by future Mars sample return missions. "Perseverance is going to make discoveries that cause us to rethink our questions about what Mars was like and how we understand it today".

Once the samples are on our home planet, scientists plan to conduct detailed chemical and physical analysis in laboratories around the world to look for signs of past life on Mars and perform many other studies beyond the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars. And given the difficulty of this multi-pronged return journey of the samples, they won't land on Earth until 2031, at the earliest. Created to demonstrate that converting Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen is possible, it could lead to future versions of MOXIE technology that become staples on Mars missions, providing oxygen for rocket fuel and breathable air.

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On board Perseverance is a 1.8kg autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity, which is due to test powered flight on Mars. Perseverance also has a helicopter testing the possibility of flight on Mars, which has far less atmospheric pressure than Earth. "In the same way, the descendants of Ingenuity and MOXIE will become valuable tools for future explorers to the Red Planet and beyond".

As now envisioned, the lander launches in 2026 and arrives at Mars in 2028, touching down close to the Mars 2020 rover near Jezero Crater. But if there was ever a team that could make it happen, it is this one.

The United States plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under a program that envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the more ambitious crewed Martian voyage.

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