After years of preparations, NASA is sending another robotic explorer to investigate our planetary neighbor Mars on Thursday, July 30. The Perseverance rover will follow in the footsteps of Curiosity and other rovers in venturing beyond Earth, and traveling alongside it is the Ingenuity helicopter, which will be the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on another planet.
So far, weather is looking good, with an 80% chance of conditions being suitable for launch, according to a forecast by the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Perseverance launch on Thursday, including how to watch it live.
The launch will be shown on NASA TV, the space agency’s 24-hour streaming channel. You can stream the channel in the player at the top of this page, or on the NASA TV website.
Coverage begins on Thursday, July 30 at 4 a.m. PT / 7 a.m. ET, with the launch itself scheduled for 4:50 a.m. PT / 7:50 a.m. ET. After the launch, there will be a post-launch news conference held at 8:30 a.m. PT / 11:30 a.m. ET.
NASA is encouraging people to use the hashtag #CountdownToMars when tweeting or posting about the launch, and even has special augmented reality filters on Instagram for people who are passionate about Perseverance.
The agency has also put together a virtual reality event: Oculus will host the launch in virtual reality live on Facebook, so if you have a headset, you can tune in like you’re actually there.
The Perseverance rover is a largely autonomous science vehicle, measuring in at around 10 feet long with a seven-foot robotic arm and six highly maneuverable wheels to allow it to climb over rocks and difficult terrain. Weighing in at around 2,260 pounds, or just over 1,000 kilograms, it is based on the same design as the previous Curiosity rover and is considerably heavier than older Mars rovers like Opportunity.
The rover is equipped with seven instruments including cameras, microphones, and spectrometers, which aim to answer one of the biggest questions in space science: Was there ever life on Mars?
The rover additionally has a system of drills, a sampling arm, and a collection of sample tubes, all of which will be used to collect samples of Martian rocks that can be left on the surface of the planet for a future mission to collect and return to Earth.
The rover also carries an experimental instrument called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) which will attempt to create oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the martian atmosphere, which would be an invaluable tool for one day sending humans to the red planet.
With all its checks and reviews complete, the rover has already been secured inside the rocket which will carry it to Mars, along with the Ingenuity helicopter and the sky crane descent stage for landing on the red planet.
The launch will use the same type of rocket that the previous NASA Mars missions Curiosity and InSight also used: An Atlas V, which will be brought out to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. In total, including the rocket, rover, helicopter, fuel, and descent stage, the spacecraft will weigh about 1.17 million pounds, or over 500,000 kilograms.
The launch window opens at 7:50 a.m. ET, meaning that this is the earliest time at which takeoff can occur. It’s possible that the launch might be delayed due to weather conditions, but the hope is to launch at this time.
The rover and helicopter will begin their eight-month journey to Mars and are scheduled to land in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, when they can begin exploring this promising area for signs of ancient life.
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