New York, 30 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – NASA is set to blast off its newest rover to Mars on Thursday, in an ambitious mission seeking signs of past Martian life.
The US space agency aims to launch the 2.5-billion-dollar spacecraft, named Perseverance, on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The two-hour launch window opens at 7:50 am (1150 GMT), with a lift-off opportunity every five minutes.
The robotic rover – NASA’s most complex one yet – is designed to search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, study its climate and geology, collect and store rock and soil samples, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
“This is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world – ancient life on Mars,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Wednesday.
The 1,040-kilogram rover, which is the size of a small car, will also have a helicopter drone named Ingenuity strapped to its belly, which could become the first craft to fly on another planet.
Perseverance is set to land at Mars’ Jezero Crater in February next year.
It is the third Mars mission of the summer, after China and the United Arab Emirates both launched their own orbiters this month.
NASA has previously conducted eight successful Mars landings. Its latest mission is part of the Artemis programme, which aims to land people on the moon by 2024 and establish sustained human presence there by 2028, as a stepping stone to get to Mars.