NASA has announced the successful launch of its six-wheeled ‘Perseverance’ robot to Mars as part of an ambitious mission to learn more about the Red Planet.
After taking off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Perseverance will now begin its mission to collect rocks from the planet’s surface, test out equipment for future missions and search for traces of life.
The mission is the ninth launched by the US space agency and cost a total of $2.4 billion (£2.1 billion). It is the third Mars launch within the last two weeks after previous efforts by China and the UAE.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told a news briefing on Wednesday: “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.”
🚀 We have LIFTOFF to Mars! The @ulalaunch Atlas V takes flight with our @NASAPersevere rover. The #CountdownToMars continues as Perseverance begins her 7-month journey to the Red Planet! pic.twitter.com/3RTL1CR4WS
— NASA (@NASA) July 30, 2020
He added: “We’re going to be able to see with our own eyes, with motion pictures, these kinds of activities happening on another world.”
Perseverance also carries an experimental helicopter called ‘Ingenuity’. The deployment of Ingenuity is the first flight attempt on Mars, with the hopes that in the future, a series of similar helicopters could scan larger areas.
The robot is set to land inside the planet’s Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, after a seven-month journey.
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Last week, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully completed the launch of its ‘Hope’ mars probe using a Japanese-made H-IIA rocket. It took off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in the Kumage District in Japan.
Once it reaches Mars, the probe will carry out 687 days of orbital data collection to help scientists better understand how the Red Planet went from being a warm world with liquid surface water to become colder and drier.
On the 23rd of July, China also successfully launched its Tianwen-1 Mars probe from Hainan Island’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre.
Team members working on the rocket said: “Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter.
“No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough.”
Scotland is also making an attempt to join these space exploration giants with its own rocket launch last month. Edinburgh based Skyrora successfully launched its Skylark rocket in Shetland, marking the UK’s first ground rocket test for 50 years.
Although not quite a trip to Mars, the rocket reached an altitude of six kilometres and will collect meteorological data and measure wind profiles for educational purposes.
After the launch, Skyrora announced the building of a new testing facility, creating 170 jobs in Scotland and indicating signs of growth in British space exploration in the future.