Mars 2020 rover leaves home on 2,300-mile journey to Florida for launch

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover has completed its fabrication and assembly stages and is almost ready for its launch to Mars in a few months.

Before final launch preparations can take place, the rover needed to be transported from its home at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from where it will launch. For the rover’s 2,300-mile trip, it was carried aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo plane that landed in Florida earlier this week.

The event was rather bittersweet for the NASA scientists who have been working on the rover for years. “Our rover has left the only home it has ever known,” John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager, said in a statement. “The 2020 family here at JPL is a little sad to see it go, but we’re even more proud knowing that the next time our rover takes to the skies, it will be headed to Mars.”

The rover will shortly be joined in Florida by the mission’s cruise stage and the Mars Helicopter, a small experimental helicopter that will be sent to Mars to see whether it is possible to achieve autonomous flight in the thin Martian atmosphere.

With all components for the mission in place, the final assembly stages can now begin. This involves the deployment of parts like the rover’s aeroshell, a protective covering that will keep the delicate instruments inside the rover safe during the extreme temperatures and impacts caused by launch, space travel, and landing. Other parts that had to be assembled include the descent stage and mission support equipment, which were brought first to the Air Force’s March Air Reserve Base by truck before being loaded onto C-17 planes.

The facility used for final spacecraft processing for Mars 2020 is the same on that processes the Curiosity rover, currently on Mars and exploring the Gale Crater. The next step is for all of the Mars 2020 components to be tested to ensure that no issues occurred during transport. Then the final stage of assembly and testing can begin, which will take several months.

The rover is scheduled to be enclosed within its aeroshell in late June, before being delivered to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 41 to be attached to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for launch to the red planet in early July this year.

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