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

Go deeper

30 mins ago - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: Fear of voting

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±3.0% margin of error for the total sample; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to worry about in-person voting — with nearly two in three seeing it as a large or moderate risk to their health — according to this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This could pose a significant disadvantage for Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates in November if the pattern holds — especially in states where high infection rates persist, or where there are significant hurdles to mail-in, absentee or early voting.

Trump: Coronavirus is "under control"

President Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he thinks the coronavirus is as well-controlled in the U.S. as it can be, despite dramatic surges in new infections over the course of the summer and more than 150,000 American deaths.

  • “They are dying, that's true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague,” he told Axios' Jonathan Swan.
Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 18,295,434 — Total deaths: 694,233 — Total recoveries — 10,926,704Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 4,717,716 — Total deaths: 155,471 — Total recoveries: 1,513,446 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. Education — Fauci: Schools can reopen with safeguards, but those in virus hot spots should remain closed
  4. Politics: White House will require staff to undergo randomized testing — Pelosi says Birx "enabled" Trump on misinformation.
  5. Sports: 13 members of St. Louis Cardinals test positive, prompting MLB to cancel Tigers series — Former FDA chief says MLB outbreaks should be warning sign.
  6. 1 🎥 thing: "Tenet" may be the first major film to get a global pandemic release.