Save the date: July 20th is the target date for NASA's upcoming launch of its Perseverance Rover to Mars. This will mark the first time a NASA spacecraft heads to the Red Planet to collect samples and return them back to Earth for observation.
The Rover's astrobiology mission will be looking for past signs of microscopic life on Mars, explore the Jezero Crater landing site's geology, and show how certain technologies will be able to help prepare for future robotic and human exploration.
First sample collection from Mars
"Fifty-one years ago today, NASA was deep into final preparations for the first Moon landing," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Today we stand at the threshold of another monumental moment in exploration: sample collection at Mars."
NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which has been in the making since December 2012, will launch at the most optimal time between July 20, and August 11, when the relative positions between Earth and Mars are the best. These launch opportunities only come every 26 months, so if this Summer's launch can't go as planned, it'll have to wait until September 2022 to try again.
The Mars Perseverance Rover is the heaviest payload to date that NASA will be sending to the Red Planet. As a moving touch, the team working on Perseverance has decided to show its gratitude to health care workers during these trying times by attaching a plate onto the rover's chassis. It depicts Earth, supported by the medical community — represented by the medical symbol of the serpent intertwined around a rod.
"We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others," said Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at JPL.
The launch site is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the NASA team is excited: "The mission has one launch, 314 million miles of interplanetary space and seven minutes of terror to get safely onto the surface of Mars," explained Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.
"When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time and we truly begin to realize the scientific bounty before us, the fun really begins."
Perseverance's mission will be to look for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, while it also looks at its climate and geology. The main point is to set up the path for future human exploration of Mars. This will also mark the first planetary mission that will collect and cache Martian rock core and dust samples.
Regardless of which date the Perseverance Rover lifts off this Summer, it will be landing on Mars on February 18, 2021.