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

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jul 28, 2020 - Science

Perseverance will carry a Martian helicopter, other tech to the Red Planet

Artist's illustration of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance will carry new tech to Mars that represents major technological advances since NASA's last rover — Curiosity — landed on the Red Planet in 2012.

Why it matters: These new experiments and technology demonstrations will fill in gaps in knowledge scientists have about the world and set up future robotic missions in the process.

Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota COVID cases traced to 3 Trump campaign events
  6. World: Unrest in Italy as restrictions grow across Europe.
  7. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.
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Republicans and Dems react to Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation

President Trump stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett after she took the constitutional oath to serve as a Supreme Court justice during a White House ceremony Monday night .Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Trump said Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court and her subsequent taking of the constitutional oath Monday was a "momentous day," as she she vowed to serve "without any fear or favour."

Of note: As Republicans applauded the action, Democratic leaders warned of consequences to the rush to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a conservative so close to the election, as progressives led calls to expand the court.