Folks, we’re off to Mars again!
After a successful launch on Thursday morning at 7:50 a.m. ET, NASA’s new Perseverance rover is on its way to Mars. The research vehicle launched from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and once out of orbit will spend the next seven months zooming through space toward the red planet.
With clear skies, the launch seemed to go without a hitch. It actually launched 10 milliseconds early, that’s how on the ball the launch team was. Moving quickly up to 14,000 miles per hour within minutes, the rocket saw strong engine response throughout the launch. The spacecraft proceeded to move into orbit, from where it detached from its booster engines, before finding the trajectory toward its Martian destination.
Here’s the first rocket booster separation, high above the Earth:
It was the very first day of the particular launch window for the mission which runs up until Aug. 15 — launch windows are determined when Earth and Mars are the closest they can get to each other, It happens once every 26 months and even then it’s not that close with the minimum distance from the Earth to Mars at about 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometers).
Now, it’s got a long journey ahead, scheduled to make its descent through the red planet’s atmosphere in Feb. 2021, and set to land in Mars’ Jezero Crater. Perseverance has an important mission to collect signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, as well as information about the planet’s geology and climate, and it will collect rock and soil samples to bring back to Earth.
Perseverance is also bringing along another craft for the ride, a four-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter named Ingenuity, the first aircraft to fly in a controlled way on another planet.
It’s been ten years leading up to this launch, with concept studies leading to a formal announcement on Dec. 2012. It’s such a big deal to NASA they released a trailer for the launch. Built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Perseverance is about 10 feet (three metres) long and is the largest, heaviest robotic rover NASA has built yet. It’s loaded up with complex and critical exploration instruments and scientific tools, including 19 cameras and the Terrain-Relative Navigation system which will provide critical information for future missions landing humans on Mars and the moon.
Interestingly, after landing, NASA engineers will activate the rover’s mast, which contains a microphone — yep, Plus, the rover will also bring the first samples of spacesuit material ever sent to Mars, which will be studied aboard the vessel to inform scientists on Earth about what humans could possibly be able to wear on the Martian planet.
Here’s a neat animation NASA published which shows the Perseverance rover in action:
And importantly, Perseverance will build on the work already done by NASA’s earlier Mars Rovers from the microwave-sized, history-making Sojourner, to the golf cart-sized pair Spirit and Opportunity, car-sized Curiosity rover (which got itself a pet rock), and the stationary InSight lander.
NASA picked the name Perseverance through a naming contest, which prompted 28,000 essay submissions from students across the U.S. — seventh-grader Alexander Mather pitched the winning name. The space agency describes Perseverance as “the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to Mars, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion for taking on and overcoming challenges.”
The launch comes 10 days after the United Arab Emirates launched its ‘Hope’ mission to Mars from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre, the first-ever space mission by the UAE. The Hope will not land on Mars, but rather orbit the planet collecting data. Both will arrive in 2021, so maybe it can wave to the Perseverance on the way.
If you want to follow along with Perseverance’s progress, you can follow the official Twitter account.