NASA’s ninth Mission Mars lifts off

This is the ninth Mars mission and the fifth one with a rover by NASA. The rover will act as an astrobiologist, and will study a captivating site on Mars indicating ancient life.

Credit : Reuters India

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket carrying NASA’s Perseverance rover and its Ingenuity helicopter, on Thursday morning, lifted off on its way to Mars from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The control center team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said the spacecraft started sending signals around two hours after the launch, stated a CNN report

"This signifies that JPL's deep space network has locked on to the spacecraft, which is on its journey to Mars," said NASA's Launch Services Program launch manager Omar Baez.

Alex Mather and Vaneeza Rupani, the student winners naming the rover and the helicopter in two national competitions were present during the launch. The launch was accomplished smoothly despite tremors reported at the control center at JPL in Pasadena, California before the lift-off.

Addressing a press meet at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, "I'm exceptionally excited about what we're about to do because we're going to launch Mars 2020 with the Perseverance robot." 

"But there is so much more going on here. This is the first time in history where we're going to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world -- ancient life on Mars," he added. Perseverance will land at Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021, seven months after its launch.

The Mars 2020 mission kicked off following a decade-long toil and planning by thousands of scientists, engineers and specialists at NASA centers across the US and their commercial partners. According to CNN, the Covid-19 outbreak posed some issued during the final stages of the mission preparation.

"I really just cannot say enough about how incredible this team was," said JPL director Michael Watkins. He added. "They really knuckled down and completed this on schedule and we are ready to go. NASA really came together as a family and really it's just been a surprisingly smooth experience given all the troubles with COVID."

Two more Mars missions have already been launched, China's Tianwen-1 (with a rover) and United Arab Emirates' Hope Probe. This is not a mere coincidence. Since the Earth and Mars are aligned on the same side of the sun, making shorter journeys in less fuel possible. This alignment happens every 26 months.

The names of 11 million people are being carried by Perseverance. These people had responded to NASA's ‘Send Your Name to Mars’ drive. A plaque appreciating the work being done by global health care workers during the pandemic and celestially inspiring art is also being taken to Mars.

This is the ninth Mars mission and the fifth one with a rover by NASA. The rover will act as an astrobiologist, and will study a captivating site on Mars indicating ancient life. An interesting part of the rover is its second "brain" which will assist it to land safely on an otherwise impossible terrain. The instrument will support Perseverance to "think while driving".

The state-of-the-art devices will aid the rover to examine Jezero Crater, where an ancient lake and river delta are located. The lake indicates that the red planet was warmer wetter and habitable. Perseverance will explore for ancient microbial life. It will collect samples of rocks and soil to be sent back to Earth by future missions, possibly by 2031. These will be the first such samples.

Perseverance companion, Ingenuity will become the first helicopter to on another planet. It will have five test flights in the thin atmosphere of the red planet. The rover is fitted with 23 cameras, many of which are colour. Some cameras have new zoom techniques and can videograph. Perseverance has two microphones to record the Mars sounds as well as to record its wheels crunching on the terrain.

"This mission is special for a lot of reasons," said NASA's JPL deputy project manager Matt Wallace. "We're doing transformative science and looking for signs of life on another planet, among a lot of other firsts."