NASA today gave technical authorization for the launch, next Thursday, of the six-wheeled rover Perseverance to Mars, where the robot seeks traces of ancient microbes that may have populated that planet more than 3 billion years ago.
On February 18, 2021, the rover was to pose on Mars. “We are ready to launch,” announced NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine at a news conference, proud to have managed to fulfill the program even with the pandemic: “We persevere, we protect this mission, because it is very important.”
The launch will be at 11h50 GMT on Thursday, in Cabo Caaveral, Florida, by means of an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance. “I never thought that a launch director could work from home, but that is what I have been doing for five months,” commented Omar Baetz, head of launch for the American space agency.
The mission, conceived in 2012 and named “Mars 2020”, to try to find out if that planet was inhabited. “The first time in history that NASA has dedicated a mission to what is called astrobiology: the search for life, perhaps for current life, or for old life in another world,” said Jim Bridenstine.
Perseverance, an improved version of the robot Curiosity, which has been on Mars since 2012, will analyze Martian rocks using the instruments it carries, designed by researchers from France and Spain. But the most important thing is that he will take samples of rocks, which he will leave inside sealed tubes on the surface so that they can be recovered by a future mission and brought to Earth in 2031.
Next year, China will try to land a robot on Mars for the first time, on the Tianwen-1 mission, launched last week. A Chinese four-wheeled explorer is due to arrive on that planet in May 2021.