2.13.2020 5:42 PM

One small step

Countdown to Mars 2020: NASA rover makes final journey before July launch

NASA's Mars 2020 rover is getting ever closer to its goal: Discovering evidence of life on the Red Planet.

The Mars 2020 rover is all grown up and flown the nest.

NASA’s car-sized robot left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on Monday, February 10, bound for the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It arrived at its new, temporary home on Wednesday, February 12, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

The rover was packed up in a large shipping container with a license plate that read, ‘HND SGHT.'

Those who witnessed the birth of the rover and watched it take its first steps were sad to see it go. NASA rocket scientist Michael Staab, who helped design the rover, tweeted out a farewell message on Monday.

“Safe travels you intrepid explorer...we’ll see you soon!”

On this inaugural journey, the rover travelled 2,300 miles across the country over two days, carried by a pair of Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo planes. Soon, it will embark on a very different — and much longer — flight.

This journey is yet another step for the still unnamed robot as it marches steadily towards a new life on the Red Planet. In July 2020, the rover will launch on an 140-million-mile journey to Mars.

On Feb. 11, 2020, Mars 2020 Assembly, Test and Launch Operations Manager David Gruel watched as members of his team loaded NASA's next Mars rover onto an Air Force C-17 at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Once it arrived at the Kennedy Center, the rover was transported to the same processing facility that its older predecessor, Curiosity rover, was prepped for its own mission to the Red Planet.

The rover had some company on its trip. It travelled alongside its cruise stage and descent stage vehicles, and the Mars Helicopter. The helicopter will be the first to fly on another world, detaching itself from the rover once they both arrive on Mars and conducting a series of test flights.

As for the rover itself, it is designed to navigate through the bumpy, dry surface of Mars in order to look for signs of habitability on the Red Planet. Scientists hope it will also answer the question of whether or not Mars has ever hosted life.

An artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover coming into land on the Red Planet.NASA

The rover is supposed to land in the Jezero crater — an area of Mars that has been identified by scientists as a potential hotbed of evidence for life on the planet. It will collect various samples from the Martian surface and soil, storing them for a future mission to return to Earth for analysis.

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