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‘On our way to Mars’: NASA rover will look for signs of life

July 30, 2020 GMT
An Atlas V rockets lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center with NASA's Perseverance rover on its way to Mars, Thursday, July 30, 2020, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built, a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers is part 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. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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An Atlas V rockets lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center with NASA's Perseverance rover on its way to Mars, Thursday, July 30, 2020, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built, a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers is part 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. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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An Atlas V rockets lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center with NASA's Perseverance rover on its way to Mars, Thursday, July 30, 2020, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built, a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers is part 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. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

CAPE CANAVERAL, la. (AP) 1 ; The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever b ilt 1 ; a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers 1 ; blasted off for the red planet Th rsday as part of an ambitio s, long-range project to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth to be analyzed for evidence of ancient life.

NASA 17;s Perseverance rode a mighty Atlas V rocket into a clear morning sky in the world 17;s third and final Mars la nch of the s mmer. China and the United Arab Emirates got a head start last week, b t all three missions sho ld reach their destination in ebr ary after a jo rney of seven months and 3 million miles (48 million kilometers).

The pl toni m-powered, six-wheeled rover will drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be bro ght home in abo t 31 in a sort of interplanetary relay race involving m ltiple spacecraft and co ntries. The overall cost: more than $8 billion.

NASA 17;s science mission chief, Thomas Z rb chen, prono nced the la nch the start of ;h manity 17;s first ro nd trip to another planet. 1;

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;Oh, I loved it, p nching a hole in the sky, right? Getting off the cosmic shore of o r Earth, wading o t there in the cosmic ocean,” he said. ;Every time, it gets me. 1;

In addition to potentially answering one of the most profo nd q estions of science, religion and philosophy 1 ; Is there or has there ever been life beyond Earth? 1 ; the mission will yield lessons that co ld pave the way for the arrival of astrona ts as early as the 3 s.

;There 17;s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Beca se going to Mars is hard, 1; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said j st before liftoff. ;In this case, it 17;s harder than ever before beca se we 17;re doing it in the midst of a pandemic. 1;

Shortly after liftoff, Perseverance nexpectedly went into safe mode, a sort of protective hibernation, after a temperat re reading triggered an alarm. B t dep ty project manager Matt Wallace later said that the spacecraft appeared to be in good shape, with its temperat res back within proper limits, and that NASA will probably switch it back to its normal cr ise state within a day or so.

;Everything is pointing toward a healthy spacecraft ready to go to Mars and do its mission, 1; he said.

NASA’s deep-space tracking stations also had some diffic lty locking onto signals from Perseverance early in the flight b t event ally established a solid comm nication link, Wallace said.

The U.S., the only co ntry to safely p t a spacecraft on Mars, is seeking its ninth s ccessf l landing on the planet, which has proved to be the Berm da Triangle of space exploration, with more than half of the world’s missions there b rning p, crashing or otherwise ending in fail re.

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China is sending both a rover an orbiter. The UAE, a newcomer to o ter space, has an orbiter en ro te.

It 17;s the biggest stampede to Mars in spacefaring history. The opport nity to fly between Earth and Mars comes aro nd only once every 6 months when the planets are on the same side of the s n and abo t as close as they can get.

The la nch went off on time at 7:5 a.m. despite a 4. -magnit de earthq ake min tes before liftoff that shook NASA’s Jet Prop lsion Laboratory in So thern California, which is overseeing the rover.

La nch controllers at Cape Canaveral wore masks and sat spaced apart beca se of the coronavir s o tbreak, which kept h ndreds of scientists and other team members away from Perseverance 17;s liftoff.

;That was overwhelming. Overall, j st wow! 1; said Alex Mather, the 13-year-old Virginia schoolboy who proposed the name Perseverance in a NASA competition and watched the la nch in person with his parents.

Abo t an ho r into the flight, controllers appla ded, p mped their fists, exchanged air h gs and pantomimed high-fives when the rocket left Earth’s orbit and began h rtling toward Mars.

;We have left the b ilding. We are on o r way to Mars, 1; Perseverance 17;s chief engineer, Adam Steltzner, said from JPL.

If all goes well, the rover will descend to the Martian s rface on eb. 18, 1, in what NASA calls seven min tes of terror, d ring which the craft will go from 1 , mph (19,3 kph) to a complete stop. It is carrying 5 cameras and a pair of microphones that will enable Earthlings to vicario sly tag along.

Perseverance will aim for Jezero Crater, a treachero s, nexplored expanse of bo lders, cliffs, d nes and possibly rocks bearing the chemical signat re of microbes from what was a lake more than 3 billion years ago. The rover will store half-o nce (15-gram) rock samples in dozens of s per-sterilized titani m t bes.

It also will release a mini helicopter that will attempt the first powered flight on another planet, and test o t other technology to prepare the way for f t re astrona ts. That incl des eq ipment for extracting oxygen from Mars’ thin carbon-dioxide atmosphere.

The plan is for NASA and the E ropean Space Agency to la nch a d ne b ggy in 6 to fetch the rock samples, pl s a rocket ship that will p t the specimens into orbit aro nd Mars. Then another spacecraft will capt re the orbiting samples and bring them home.

Samples taken straight from Mars, not drawn from meteorites discovered on Earth, have long been considered ;the Holy Grail of Mars science, 1; according to NASA 17;s now-retired Mars czar, Scott H bbard.

To definitively answer the life-beyond-Earth q estion, the samples m st be analyzed by the best electron microscopes and other instr ments, far too big to fit on a spacecraft, he said.

;I 17;ve wanted to know if there was life elsewhere in the niverse since I was 9 years old. That was more than 6 years ago, 1; H bbard said from his Northern California cabin. ;B t j st maybe, I 17;ll live to see the fingerprints of life come back from Mars in one of those rock samples. 1;

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives s pport from the Howard H ghes Medical Instit te 17;s Department of Science Ed cation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.