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NASA Mars mission launches Thursday

This article first appeared in the 7/29/2020 edition of the Davis Enterprise

NASA's Perseverance Rover Mission to Mars Launching on Thursday July 30

By Vinita Domier

Davis Astronomy Club and NASA Solar System Ambassador

 

NASA's 2020 Perseverance Mars Rover is scheduled to be launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Thursday July 30 at 4:50pm local time. After a 6.5-month journey, the rover is scheduled to land inside Mars' Jezero Crater at 12:40pm local time on February 18, 2021, for a long-term robotic exploration of the Red Planet.

 

Perseverance's primary mission is to "search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past and for signs of past microbial life itself", and to also study the geology and climate of the Red Planet. The Jezero site was selected in November 2018 as the landing site because clay minerals deposits were detected in the fan-shaped delta within the crater indicating presence of an ancient lake that could potentially harbor signs of ancient Martian life. 

 

To accomplish its mission, Perseverance rover is equipped with a special drill to collect core samples of rocks and soils. These samples will be sealed in tubes and cached on Mars for future robotic or human missions to bring back to Earth for more detailed scientific analysis than can be done on Mars. Another new addition to the rover is the robotic helicopter, named Ingenuity, that will be test-flown in the thin Martian atmosphere to scout out the best routes for the rover to traverse.

 

Perseverance rover is similar in design and size to its predecessor, Curiosity, that was launched in November 2011 and is still exploring Mars since its landing at the Gale Crater in August 2012. It is more rugged and robust than all the other previous Mars rovers and has more advanced suite of scientific instruments and cameras on-board. It will also employ the ingenious 'sky-crane' for the touch-down part of the entry, the descent and landing system that was pioneered by Curiosity.

 

If the spacecraft is unable to be launched on July 30, NASA has very tight two-week period from that date to send the rover on its way to Mars. Otherwise, it will be delayed until September 2022, the next optimal time for a mission to Mars. This is because the Earth and Mars come close together in space every 26 months, around the time Mars is in Opposition, to make the journey economical in terms of fuel and time.
 

To take advantage of this fortuitous alignment, NASA's Perseverance has been proceeded by two other recent missions to Mars. United Arab Emirates Amal (Hope) orbiter was launched on July 19 and China's Tianwen-1(Quest for Heavenly Truth) lander/orbiter/rover was launched on July 23. All three spacecrafts will rendezvous with the Red Planet in February 2021. European Space Agency's ExoMars rover mission had to be rescheduled for 2022 as it was not ready to be launched by July 2020.

 

The momentous event will be broadcast live on NASA TV and livestreamed at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive on Thursday, July 30 starting at 7am with a post-launch news conference scheduled for 8:30am. More information about the mission is available at https://www.nasa.gov/perseverance. For more information, please contact Vinita Domier at vcdomier@yahoo.com.
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