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

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 15, 2020 - Science

What it would mean to find life on Venus

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Scientists think they may have found an indicator of life in Venus’ clouds — a discovery that, if confirmed, will cause them to re-examine everything they thought they knew about how life evolves.

The big picture: If life does exist within a small niche of habitability in Venus' temperate layer of clouds, it might mean that life could be even more ubiquitous in the universe than previously expected. The discovery is already fueling calls from scientists who want a mission sent to the nearby world.

A court fight for the ages

The flag flies at half-staff as people mourn on the Supreme Court steps last night. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — feminist icon, legal giant, toast of pop culture — left this statement with granddaughter Clara Spera as cancer closed in: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

The big picture: For all that the nation owes "Notorious RBG" — the hip-hop-inspired nickname she enjoyed and embraced — Republicans are planning to do their best to be sure her robe is quickly filled, despite that last wish, with her ideological polar opposite.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:15 a.m. ET: 30,539,903 — Total deaths: 952,629— Total recoveries: 20,800,482Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:15 a.m. ET: 6,726,353 — Total deaths: 198,603 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 92,163,649Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19 — Massive USPS face mask operation called off The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety netHow the pandemic has deepened Boeing's 737 MAX crunch.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.