Update 8:08 a.m.: The Atlas V rocket lifted off on schedule, and everything appeared to go well. Perseverance is now on its way to Mars. Original article appears below.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is ready for launch. You can watch the action live in the stream below starting at 7:00 a.m. EDT (4:00 a.m. PT).
‘Tis the season to be launching spacecraft to Mars, as the Hohmann transfer orbit is wide open, albeit for a limited time (the window won’t open again for another 26 months). Sending stuff to Mars is ideal right now, as this special orbital orientation offers a relatively quick journey to the Red Planet. Accordingly, the United Arab Emirates has already launched its Mars orbiter, called Hope, while China said bon voyage to its Tianwen-1 lander late last week.
Now it’s NASA’s turn, as the space agency prepares to send Perseverance, its next-gen rover, to the Red Planet.
Perseverance is scheduled to lift off on Thursday July 30 at 7:50 a.m. ET (4:50 a.m. PT) from the Kennedy Space Center on an Atlas V rocket. You can watch the launch live right here, with the NASA broadcast scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m. ET (4:00 a.m. PT). The launch window will remain open for two hours.
Should all go as planned, Perseverance will be NASA’s fifth rover to reach the Red Planet, its predecessors being Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, the latter of which is still in operation.
The main goal of the Mars 2020 mission is to hunt for signs of past life on Mars, which the rover will do inside of Jezero crater, the site of a former lake and river delta. During its nearly two-year mission, Perseverance will analyze the planet’s geology and climate, study rocks and sediment, and conduct a cool experiment in which it will attempt to produce oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide (very helpful if you’re a Martian colonist!).
Perseverance will also collect rocks and soil samples, place them in small containers, and drop them onto the surface for a future mission to collect and transport to Earth. Just today it was announced that Airbus will build the spacecraft responsible for delivering this precious cargo to Earth, in a mission that’s expected to launch in 2026.
Excitingly, the rover has a traveling companion in the form of a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity. Should it work, this rotorcraft will be the first human-made aircraft to achieve controlled flight on another planet. This helicopter can fly autonomously, but aside from this clever trick, it has no bells or whistles to speak of. Success with this mission, however, will likely lead to more ambitious projects.
The rover and helicopter are scheduled to arrive at Mars in February 7, 2021, after a seven-month journey to the Red Planet. We wish the Perseverance team the best of luck!