Jul 30, 2020 - Science

NASA's Perseverance rover launches on a trip to Mars

The ULA Atlas V rocket launches Perseverance to Mars from Florida.

The Atlas V rocket launching Perseverance to Mars Thursday. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA's Perseverance rover launched on a journey to Mars Thursday to hunt for signs of past alien life on the Red Planet.

Why it matters: The rover is the third spacecraft lofted to Mars this month, with the first two sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.

Details: The car-sized rover launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket at 7:50 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

  • The rover is now separated from the top of the rocket and is on its way to Mars.

The big picture: Once Perseverance makes it to its landing site in Jezero Crater in about seven months, the rover will set out on a mission to investigate interesting rocks for possible signatures of biology and life.

  • Scientists think the area of Mars that Perseverance will investigate is actually the remnant of an ancient lake and delta rich in deposits that might help preserve signs of life.
  • The rover's instruments will record sound, take photos and use a laser to analyze the chemical compositions of interesting rocks the rover comes across.
  • Perseverance will also cache small samples of rock and dirt in tubes to one day be delivered back to Earth on a future robotic mission.

Some fun things: Perseverance is carrying 10.9 million names submitted by people to the Red Planet etched into three silicon chips.

  • The rover also comes equipped with a plate honoring the first responders on the frontlines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • And a small helicopter called Ingenuity is hitching a ride to Mars to prove out new technology for future missions.

What's next: China's Mars mission, the UAE's Hope orbiter and Perseverance are all expected to make it to the Red Planet in February.

  • The three missions, all designed to perform different tasks to piece together Martian history, will help contribute to a more holistic picture of our cosmic neighbor.

Go deeper: The end of the beginning of Mars exploration

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