NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which features the rover Perseverance and helicopter Ingenuity, will launch this Thursday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission received the ok to launch yesterday and is expected to lift-off at 7:50 am ET.
“I just want to say that the launch readiness review is complete and we are ‘go’ for launch,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on a live broadcast. “We are in fact going to now launch what we now call Mars Perseverance in the year 2020. And I think the name is perfectly appropriate. We are in extraordinary times right now with the coronavirus pandemic, and yet we have in fact persevered and we have protected this mission because it is so important."
All going well, the mission is expected to land on Mars in the second half of February 2021 in Jezero crater. The area was once flooded with water and subsequently became rich in vast clay deposits.
Perseverance is the fifth NASA rover that will grace the ground of the Red Planet and it is the most advanced yet. The rover will investigate the Martian surface like never before, microphones will be sent to Mars for the first time, and samples will be collected for an eventual Sample-Return mission.
The mission will also see the testing of Ingenuity, the first flying machine we are sending to another world. The small helicopter is merely a technology demonstration that the team hopes will fly autonomously for 30 Martian-days. If successful, this could be the beginning of many more aerial missions to Mars and beyond.
With this launch, the US will be the third country to launch a mission to Mars this month, following the United Arab Emirates launch of Hope and China’s Tianwen-1. This is a crowded time to go to Mars because launching this summer allows for the shortest possible path towards the Red Planet. This launch window repeats roughly every 780 days, with the European and Russian rover Rosalind Franklin slotted to launch in 2022.
Live coverage will take place on YouTube and across social media platforms.