NASA Just Launched Its Biggest-Ever Mars Rover

Perseverance will seek signs of ancient life
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 30, 2020 7:48 AM CDT
NASA Launches Rover to Seek Signs of Life on Mars
Alexander Mather, of Burke, Va. stands next to a model of the Mars 2020 rover he named in a contest during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.   (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(Newser) – The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built—a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills, and lasers—blasted off Thursday as part of an ambitious, long-range project to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth to be analyzed for evidence of ancient life. NASA’s Perseverance rode a mighty Atlas V rocket into a clear morning sky in the world’s third and final Mars launch of the summer. China and the United Arab Emirates got a head start last week, but all three missions should reach the red planet in February after a journey of seven months and 300 million miles, the AP reports.

The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled rover will drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be brought home in about 2031 in a sort of interplanetary relay race involving multiple spacecraft and countries. The overall cost: more than $8 billion. In addition to addressing the life-on-Mars question, the mission will yield lessons that could pave the way for the arrival of astronauts as early as the 2030s. "There’s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said just before liftoff. "It is always hard. It's never been easy. In this case, it’s harder than ever before because we’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic." (Thanks to Perseverance, one Mars rock will continue its strange journey.)

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