NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover On Its Way To Mars Following Cape Canaveral Launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020 - Courtesy NASA

Edited by DONNA BALANCIA

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is on its way to Mars aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket which successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday.

The Air Force Station’s famous Complex 41 has been the site of many a launch, but this one is a little different as the rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet.

Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth.

“With the launch of Perseverance, we begin another historic mission of exploration,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This amazing explorer’s journey has already required the very best from all of us to get it to launch through these challenging times. Now we can look forward to its incredible science and to bringing samples of Mars home even as we advance human missions to the Red Planet. As a mission, as an agency, and as a country, we will persevere.”

The ULA Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage initially placed the Mars 2020 spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth. The engine fired for a second time and the spacecraft separated from the Centaur as expected. Navigation data indicate the spacecraft is perfectly on course to Mars.

Perseverance rover on its way to Mars following exciting liftoff - NASA
Perseverance rover on its way to Mars following exciting liftoff – NASA

Mars 2020 sent its first signal to ground controllers via NASA’s Deep Space Network at 9:15 a.m. EDT. However, telemetry (more detailed spacecraft data) had not yet been acquired at that point. Around 11:30 a.m., a signal with telemetry was received from Mars 2020 by NASA ground stations. Data indicate the spacecraft had entered a state known as safe mode, likely because a part of the spacecraft was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth’s shadow. All temperatures are now nominal and the spacecraft is out of Earth’s shadow.

When a spacecraft enters safe mode, all but essential systems are turned off until it receives new commands from mission control.

The Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission is to seek out signs of past microscopic life on Mars, explore the diverse geology of its landing site, Jezero Crater, and demonstrate key technologies that will help us prepare for future robotic and human exploration.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington said Jezero Crater is the perfect place to search for signs of ancient life.

“Perseverance is going to make discoveries that cause us to rethink our questions about what Mars was like and how we understand it today,” Zurbuchen said. “As our instruments investigate rocks along an ancient lake bottom and select samples to return to Earth, we may very well be reaching back in time to get the information scientists need to say that life has existed elsewhere in the universe.”