Space

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and helicopter are nearly ready for launch

Some 17 years after slinging its Spirit and Opportunity rovers towards the Red Planet, NASA is making final preparations ahead of its Mars 2020 mission launch. NASA’s Perseverance rover is all packed away and ready to launch to Mars on Thursday, July 30.

NASA will livestream the event as the car-sized rover takes off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Pre-launch coverage starts at 4 a.m. PT and the two-hour window opens at 4:50 a.m.

“Next week, the United States returns to Mars,” Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator at the Science Mission Directorate, said during the call. “It’s the next step in putting together a puzzle, we’ve been working on for centuries, which has accelerated in the last 55 years, beginning with the first flyby of Mars by Mariner Four. The world’s eyes were opened when the Viking landers sent back transformative pictures of the surface of another planet for the first time.”

The rover won’t be operating on its own however. Perseverance will work hand-in-hand with human researchers during its foray into Jezero Crater, Dr. Michael Watkins, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, pointed out. “We touchdown somewhere in our landing zone and then our scientists have to find the very best spots — those pots of gold — that represent this critical habitable environment and possible bio signatures as well,” he said. “And that is where the mission… becomes a partnership between robotics and humans.”

A team of planetary scientists will initially guide the rover to a promising patch of ground where Perseverance’s suite of optical, x-ray, and ultraviolet cameras to further hone in on a target site. The rover will then deploy its coring drill to take and seal samples for return to the Earth during the following mission scheduled for 2026, Watkins explained.

“This mission, we’re out there trying to find something we’ve never found before on another planet, and then we’re trying to capture it and isolate it and bring those samples back to take a close look at them,” Watkins said, “much like it with the moon rocks.”

The launch will depend on weather and technical factors. It was previously delayed from earlier in the month due to technical issues.

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