NASA launches new Mars rover


NASA’s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canav-

eral yesterday atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $2.4 billion mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth’s planetary neighbour.

The next-generation robotic rover - a car-sized six-wheeled scientific vehicle - also is sched- uled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and test out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun. It is expected to reach Mars next February.

It soared into the sky under clear, sunny and warm con- ditions carried by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lock- heed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The launch took place after the Jet Propul- sion Laboratory in California where its mission engineers were located was rattled by an earthquake.

This marked NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface. Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jeze- ro, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential

past microbial life on Mars.

A close-up view of a full size model of the Perseverance rover is on display at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (file photo)

Scientists have long debated whether Mars - once a much more hospitable place than it is today - ever harboured life. Water is considered a key in- gredient for life, and the Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

One of the most complex ma- noeuvres in Perseverance’s jour- ney will be what mission engi- neers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during

its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the plan- et’s surface.

This was scheduled as the third launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and Chi- na. The state from which the rover was launched, Florida, is currently one of the hot spots in the United States for the coro- navirus pandemic.

Aboard Perseverance is a four- pound (1.8 kg) autonomous hel- icopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others -

Spirit and Opportunity - that have explored the geology of expansive Martian plains and detected signs of past water for- mations, among other discover- ies. NASA also has successfully sent three landers - Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight.

The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under a program that envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before mak- ing the more ambitious crewed journey to Mars.

Perseverance will conduct an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich Mar- tian atmosphere into propellant for future rockets launching off the planet’s surface, or to pro- duce breathable oxygen for fu- ture astronauts.