NASA's Perseverance Rover Successfully Takes Off on New Mission to Mars

The rover is now on its six-and-a-half-month journey, scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. 

Under near-perfect conditions, NASA’s Perseverance Rover lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. ET on Thursday to start its mission to Mars.

With clear skies and no wind, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launched 10 milliseconds ahead of schedule at Space Launch Complex 41. The rocket cleared its launch tower within five seconds, thanks to accommodating weather and a well-choreographed countdown.

Perseverance rover launch
Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images

The rover is now on its six-and-a-half-month journey towards Mars, scheduled to land on Feb. 18, 2021.

One of the rover’s top missions is to seek signs of past life (biosignatures) and examine Mars for habitability potential. Perseverance is slated to arrive at Jezero, a crater in Mars’ northern hemisphere that was once a lake. Scientists believe that Jezero has the best change of producing former signs of life.

This artist's rendition depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying rocks with its robotic arm.

Perseverance is carrying numerous science projects onboard. In addition to hunting for biosignatures, the rover will test Mars’s potential to support “humans by testing oxygen production” and collect samples of land to be studied, NASA explained. Information from these tests will be used to establish future missions and potentially send humans to the Red Planet.

The rover will stay on the planet for at least one Mars year, which is about 687 Earth days. While it is away, it will also return a bit of Mars rock to its home planet and record the mission with several cameras and microphones.

The rover is also carrying the Ingenuity helicopter, that (if successful), will conduct the first powered flight on another planet.

If this launch attempt had gone awry, NASA would have had until August 15 until its launch window closed. The ideal launch period happens every 26 months when the Earth and Mars are closest to each other. Although it’s possible to launch a rocket to Mars at any time, the period marks when it requires less energy for a spacecraft to reach Mars.

Perseverance is the third spacecraft to launch towards Mars this month. Both the United Arab Emirates and China launched their own spacecraft bound for Mars earlier in July. All three missions are due to arrive on Mars around the same time, in February 2021.

Perseverance will join NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which has been exploring and documenting Mars since 2012.

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