NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is the latest rocket to blast off on an historic mission to the Red Planet.

The launch took place yesterday morning at 7:50 am EDT and followed the UAE Space Agency’s Hope probe, which launched on its journey to the Red Planet last week. The two launches are part of three missions from the US, UAE and China. The trio of missions are being launched in the same period due to the favourable planetary alignment of Earth and Mars. The mission’s launch period would have expired on August 15 and NASA – and other missions – would have needed to wait two years until the next favourable window of alignment.

Perseverance lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It is set to arrive in Mars on February 18, 2021 where it will touch down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

Rover will search for signs of past microbial life

The rover is around the size of a car and has dimensions similar to NASA’s Curiosity rover. Perseverance carries seven different scientific instruments and its astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. The rover will characterise the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

The mission marks the first time in history that samples will be collected to bring back to Earth from another planet. In another first, Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world. Perseverance will spend at least one Martian year – approximately two Earth years – exploring the landing site region on the Red Planet.

Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “(The ULA and Launch Services team) gave us a perfect launch this morning — right down the middle; couldn’t have aimed us any better. They really pushed hard to keep us on this limited planetary launch window in 2020.”

COVID-19 led to “strenuous moments”

With its unique and distinct challenges, COVID-19 posed a number of challenges which threatened the launch timeline. Wallace said this had led to some “very strenuous moments” in the past few months.

He said: “It really took the entire agency to step up and help us; and they didn’t hesitate. The team out there — thousands of people — have really made this a special mission. As people have eluded to, ‘Perseverance’ has become a pretty good name for this mission.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was delighted by the launch: “It was an amazing launch; very successful. It went right on time, it is on a trajectory now that has been done with pinpoint accuracy, and it is, in fact, on its way to Mars.”


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