Perseverance's landing site, Jezero Crater on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

NASA's Perseverance rover — designed to hunt for signs of past life on Mars — is in the final stages of preparation before launching to the Red Planet as early as July 20.

Why it matters: The mission, which dodged possible delays from the coronavirus, marks a step forward for NASA's ambitions to investigate whether Mars was inhabited at some point in the past.

Details: The rover's suite of instruments and landing site were chosen to give NASA its best shot at finding some sign of life on the Red Planet.

  • Perseverance will carry a helicopter to Mars that will serve as a technology demonstration that could help the space agency develop future missions.
  • The rover will also carry a small plaque honoring the health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The intrigue: Scientists will likely face unique challenges when hunting for signs of life on Mars, including figuring out exactly what a sign of life looks like.

  • "Our bar is high for the identification of a sign of life on another planet, as it should be," Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist, said during a news conference.
  • "I think what we're looking for are really the patterns and textures where we have a hard time explaining how that could have formed without the influence of life."

What's next: In part because of that complexity, Perseverance will also come equipped with the ability to cache samples of interesting rocks and dirt on the Martian surface that can then be returned to Earth by a future mission.

  • That robotic mission is expected to launch in 2026, with the samples due to be back on Earth by 2031 if all goes as planned.

Go deeper

Jan 7, 2020 - Science

The make-or-break moment for U.S. spaceflight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This year Boeing and SpaceX will push to launch astronauts to orbit for NASA after years of delays, in an attempt to end U.S. reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the International Space Station.

Why it matters: Up and coming space powers like India and China are making plays at sending astronauts into space while launching increasingly ambitious missions to the Moon as NASA has been riding on its Cold War-era achievements in human spaceflight.

Updated 1 min ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 11,288,094 — Total deaths: 531,244 — Total recoveries — 6,075,489Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 2,839,917 — Total deaths: 129,676 — Total recoveries: 894,325 — Total tested: 34,858,427Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity.
  4. Public health: U.S. coronavirus infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Trump extends PPP application deadlineKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive.
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control as infections rise in U.S.
  7. Sports: 31 MLB players test positive as workouts resume.
  8. 1 📽 thing: Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback.

Protester dies after car drives through closed highway in Seattle

Protesters gather on Interstate 5 on June 23, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

One person is dead and another is in serious condition after a car drove onto a closed freeway in Seattle early Saturday and into protesters against police brutality, AP reports.

  • "Summer Taylor, 24, of Seattle died in the evening at Harborview Medical Center, spokesperson Susan Gregg said."

Where it stands: The suspect, Dawit Kelete of Seattle, fled the scene after hitting the protesters, and was later put in custody after another protester chased him for about a mile. He was charged with two counts of vehicular assault. Officials told the AP they did not know whether it was a targeted attack, but the driver was not impaired.