NASA recently launched its latest rover to Mars, armed with a host of instruments to hunt for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.
The mission has been seven years in the making, and the space agency had to overcome recent challenges in order to ensure that the rover makes it to Mars on time. The Perseverance rover's journey to the Red Planet has not always been smooth sailing, launching a car-sized robot to Mars during unprecedented times to fulfill its one-of-a-kind mission.
In partnership with Cosmic Perspective, Inverse has been following Perseverance all the way to the launch pad and until it soared above Earth's atmosphere. We have put together a video that details the rover's journey from going through testing at NASA's labs, to being strapped onto a rocket headed for Mars.
The Perseverance rover launched at 7:50 a.m. Eastern on July 30 from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the rover was strapped onto a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket.
Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. The robotic explorer will land at Jezero Crater, a 28-mile wide, 500-meter-deep crater located in a basin slightly north of the Martian equator. Jezero Crater once housed a lake estimated to have dried out 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. Therefore, it is the ideal location for Perseverance to hunt for signs of past microbial life.
Once there, Perseverance will begin looking for clues of ancient life on Mars. These will help scientists understand the history of the planet, which is hypothesized to have once been a wet, habitable world.
It will look for signs of habitability on the Martian surface and past microbial life, collecting samples of rocks and soil and setting them aside for the first ever sample return mission from another planet. The rock samples will be stored away in tubes in a well-identified place on the Martian surface, and left there to be returned to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.
The mission will also test out conditions for possible human exploration of Mars by trialing a method of producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, characterizing environmental conditions such as water and dust on Mars, and looking for resources.
Prior to its launch, almost 90 percent of the Perseverance team had transitioned to telework while eight mission-critical team members are performing final processing and testing of the rover at the Kennedy Space Center.
In response to the novel coronavirus, NASA enforced a mandatory telework at its facilities that came into effect on March 20. But the space agency was still determined to launch Perseverance on schedule despite the circumstances, otherwise they would have had to wait until September, 2023.
The Perseverance came with what is known as "orbital constraint," meaning that its launch to Mars depends on planetary alignment between Earth and Mars, which takes place during three crucial weeks every 26 months.
If NASA were to store Perseverance until the next launch window opens, it would cost the space agency $500 million, according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Perseverance is joining another NASA rover on Mars, Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet in 2012 and is still roaming its dusty surface till today.
The rover is set to spend one Martian year, or the equivalent of 687 days on Earth, exploring the Red Planet but its mission may also be extended.