NASA’s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance will take off Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to find traces of possible past life on Earth’s planetary neighbor.
The U.S. space agency’s $ 2.4 billion mission is scheduled to launch at 7:50 a.m.ET (1150 GMT) and is expected to reach Mars in February. The six-wheeled car-like robotic robot, which will be launched on top of an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance, will also deploy a mini-helicopter on Mars and test equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet of the Sun.
The Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron’s weather forecast has raised the probability of an undisturbed launch to 80 percent, indicating a slight chance that thick clouds would form over the launch pad and delay the launch. “This is the ninth time we have landed on Mars, so we have experience with it,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told Reuters on Wednesday.
Perseverance is due to the base of an 820-foot-deep (250-meter) crater called Jezero, a former lake 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could provide evidence of potential microbial life in the past on Mars. Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more welcoming place than it is today – ever cost its life. One of the most complex maneuvers on Perseverance’s journey is what mission engineers call the “ seven minutes of terror, ” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds as it descends through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a series of supersonic parachutes before he fires mini-rocket engines to land gently on the surface of the planet.
It is the last launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes from the United Arab Emirates and China. On board perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity that will test a powered flight on Mars for the first time.
Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – who have explored the geology of vast Martian plains and discovered signs of past water formations, among other discoveries. NASA has also successfully sent three landers – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight. The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s as part of a program that aims to use a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the more ambitious human journey to Mars.
Perseverance will conduct an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars into propellant gas for future rockets launching from Earth’s surface, or to produce breathable oxygen for future astronauts.