Watch USA’s Mars Rocket takeoff after UAE and China

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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USA Mars Mission Perseverance
The Atlas V rocket launching Perseverance to Mars Thursday. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is going back to Mars after a 17 years gap and the agency’s goal this time will be to look for evidence of ancient life. To this end, NASA has launched Perseverance, a car-sized rover, costing $2.4 billion, that might help address some basic questions about life in the universe.

Today the Perseverance Mars rover blasted off at 11:50 GMT, kick-starting a 6.5-month journey that will culminate in one spectacular Red Planet landing in February next year.

The explorer will join a small group of landers and orbiters, whose previous discoveries have taken the exploration to this level.

Scientists have long questioned whether Mars had ever harbored life-once, which was a far more hospitable place than it is today. Water is considered a vital component of life, and Mars had plenty of it on the surface billions of years ago before the planet became a barren and sterile outpost. This is what Perseverance, NASA’s ninth and most advanced robotic explorer yet will also help to understand.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep crater called Jezero, a 3.5 billion-year-old former lake that may bear evidence of a potential past microbial life on Mars.

NASA Perseverance Mars Rover
Perseverance will follow in the footsteps of previous martian rovers such as Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity. NASA’s latest rover is also expected to set the stage for human exploration of Mars.

The rover is also intended to help bring back Martian rock samples to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules.

All of NASA ‘s previous rovers-Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity-have not only made amazing observations but have also been able to build a case that suggests that Mars once was a habitable planet.

NASA’s understanding of Mars has been gradual. The initial plan was to follow the water. Thanks to excellent maps taken by numerous spacecraft circling the Red Planet, we realize Mars just appears to be a warm, desolate desert. But Mars does contain pockets of water and water ice.

NASA is not alone in going to Mars. Perseverance is the third spacecraft to blast off to the Red Planet this month. The United Arab Emirates had launched an orbiter named Hope earlier in July. And China launched a combination of rover-lander-orbiters, Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven.”

Though the launch is led by NASA, this is a multi-agency undertaking. Thousands of people worked on this project including teams in Europe, contributing to this state-of-the-art rover.

The U.S. plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s before making the more ambitious crew trip to Mars.