NASA successfully launches Perseverance rover toward Mars, in search for signs of life

NASA successfully launches Perseverance rover toward Mars, in search for signs of life
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NASA successfully launched the Perseverance rover toward Mars on Thursday morning in a mission to search for signs of past life on the red planet. 

The spacecraft holding Perseverance launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. at about 7:50 a.m. as the car-sized rover began its journey to Mars’ crater Jezero. It is expected to reach its destination, which had once been a lake, on Feb. 18, 2021, NBC News reported

The mission had faced technical delays as well as obstacles presented by the coronavirus pandemic, which led many of the engineers on the project to work from home, The New York Times reported

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The launch conducted by United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket is the third mission to Mars this month after China and the United Arab Emirates sent spacecraft to the red planet. All three are expected to arrive at about the same time. 

Perseverance will study the geology and climate of Mars and could gather information for potential future human explorations of the planet, according to NBC News. The rover will take samples of rock cores and soil from the planet and is set to return to Earth in 2031. This would be the first time samples would be returned to Earth, aside from meteorites from the planet.

The six-wheeled rover will also experiment with whether carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere can be changed into oxygen for humans. Perseverance is carrying a small helicopter named Ingenuity which will attempt to test flights in the planet’s atmosphere. It also has 23 cameras and two microphones to capture the red planet.

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NASA had a limited launch period of 20 days as Earth lines up with Mars every 26 months, CNN reported. If the agency missed that window, it would have to wait “a couple years” until it could launch again. 

Perseverance will serve as NASA’s newest rover on Mars since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012, aiming to find habitable environments and signs of freshwater. 

An earthquake near Los Angeles jolted NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory but did not affect the launch.

Usually crowds gather to watch NASA’s launches, but the agency encouraged people to watch from a distance because of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida.