National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V.
- The launch took place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
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- The rover’s Mars arrival is set for 18, 2021.
- The mission is planned to last for at least one Mars year, which works out to about 687 days on Earth (it takes longer for Mars to go around the sun).
- Landing site: Jezero crater.
- Perseverance is loaded with seven instruments chosen to help it achieve its mission objectives.
Why is this mission significant?
- Perseverance will carry a unique instrument, MOXIE or Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: which for the first time will manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere (ISRU means In Situ Resource Utilization: or the use of local resources to meet human needs or requirements of the spacecraft).
- It will carry Ingenuity, the first ever helicopter to fly on Mars. This is the first time NASA will fly a helicopter on another planet or satellite.
- It is the planned first step to bring back rock samples from Mars for analysis in sophisticated laboratories on Earth: with the goal of looking for biosignatures: or signatures of present or past life.
These are some of the key mission objectives:
- Look for signs of ancient microbial life.
- Collect Martian rock and dust samples for later return to Earth.
- Deliver an experimental helicopter.
- Study the climate and geology of Mars.
- Demonstrate technology for future Mars missions.
What is the reason for the near-term interest in Mars?
- Mars is located in the very near backyard (about 200 million km away).
- It is a planet that humans can aspire to visit or to stay for a longer duration.
- Mars had flowing water and an atmosphere in the distant past: and perhaps conditions to support life.
- In the near term, the increase in interest related to Mars is because of Elon Musk’s plans for commercial travel.
- NASA has been sending rovers on Mars since 1997 when the Mars Pathfinder Mission was initiated.
- As the mission turned out to be successful, NASA decided to continue going to Mars to find evidence.
- Second time, the space organization sent twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity to Mars in 2003.
- The third attempt was by sending Curiosity in 2012.