Final month of preparations before the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover

There’s just one month to go until the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which will land on Mars to search for evidence of ancient life there.

Despite the challenges caused by the global pandemic of the coronavirus, the launch is still set for its original date and will go ahead as first planned in 2012. Due to the way that Earth and Mars orbit, to travel between the two efficiently, there is a window for launch every 26 months, so missing the window this summer would have caused a major problem.

In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019.
In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech

With such an important timescale to keep to, NASA has to allow for the possibility that there could be poor weather on the launch day requiring a short delay. So the window for the launch this summer runs from July 20 to August 11, allowing some flexibility for last-minute issues. The rover will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, along with the first-ever helicopter to be flown on another planet, named Ingenuity.

To acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of healthcare workers during the pandemic, the rover will carry a special plate on its chassis depicting Earth supported by the serpent rod that represents the medical community. “We wanted to demonstrate our appreciation for those who have put their personal well-being on the line for the good of others,” said Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is our hope that when future generations travel to Mars and happen upon our rover, they will be reminded that back on Earth in the year 2020 there were such people.”

Attached to the Perseverance Mars rover, this 3-by-5-inch (8-by-13-centimeter) aluminum plate commemorates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pays tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world.
Attached to the Perseverance Mars rover, this 3-by-5-inch (8-by-13-centimeter) aluminum plate commemorates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pays tribute to the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine highlighted Perseverance during celebrations for the 51st anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the first crewed spaceflight to the moon: “Fifty-one years ago today, NASA was deep into final preparations for the first moon landing,” he said.

“Today we stand at the threshold of another monumental moment in exploration: Sample collection at Mars. As we celebrate the heroes of Apollo 11 today, future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance — not only for what they will achieve 100 million miles from home, but for what they were able to accomplish on this world on the road to launch.”

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