NASA launched its newest rover to Mars Thursday for what could prove to be a history making mission. It lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Researchers will use this trip to the red planet to look for signs of life.
Project scientist Ken Farley says, "It is very hard to imagine that we are alone." A primary goal of this mission is to search for evidence of ancient life.
The 'Perseverance' rover will drill into the planet's surface to search for signs of long-dead microscopic organisms that may have thrived on Mars billions of years ago. “There are environments that have been found, especially by the Curiosity rover, that by every characteristic that we know of look habitable," project scientist Ken Farley says.
The rover will also study the climate and geology of Mars. A first-of-its-kind Mars helicopter will capture aerial views of the planet's surface.
'Perseverance' will also collect samples of Martian rock, with plans to one day return them to Earth. "To really be sure that we're seeing signs of ancient life on Mars in the rocks there, we have to bring samples back to Earth to check," says Briony Horgan, a member of the science team.
Researchers say the mission is ready to go because they wrapped up nearly all of their prep work before the coronavirus pandemic began. "If this had happened six months ago when we had hundreds and hundreds of people at the laboratory building things, we wouldn't have made it," Farley says.
Perseverance is expected touch down on Mars in February 2021.
NASA's mission to Mars is one of three launching this month. Both China and the United Arab Emirates launched spacecrafts to the planet in July.