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Watch NASA’s handy overview of its ambitious Mars 2020 rover mission

NASA’s highly anticipated Mars 2020 mission is all set for launch on Thursday, July 30.

The mission’s primary goals are to search for signs of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples for return to Earth at a later date, and collect data for future human exploration of the faraway planet.

While NASA’s Perseverance rover will carry out much of the work, the mission will also see an aircraft fly for the very first time on another planet when the Ingenuity helicopter lifts off from the Martian surface.

Just a couple of days before United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket blasts off carrying Perseverance, Ingenuity, and also a piece of Mars rock, a new NASA video (below) offers a brief but informative overview of the ambitious mission.

Mission Overview: NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover

Perseverance is a more advanced version of NASA’s Curiosity rover, which continues to explore Mars after arriving there in 2012.

About the size of a small car, NASA’s newest rover has six rugged wheels, a plethora of scientific instruments, a 2-meter-long robotic arm, 23 cameras, and, for the first time, a couple of microphones that will capture the possibly eerie sound of Martian winds — as well as any other noises that we don’t yet know about.

The Perseverance rover mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7:50 a.m. on Thursday, (here’s how to watch the event online). But space fans eager for updates from the Mars mission will have to be patient as the rover won’t reach its destination until February 2021.

There’s a lot of interest in Mars just now as a growing number of countries seek to reach the red planet. Just a few days ago China launched a rover and orbiter bound for Mars, and shortly before that the United Arab Emirates sent an orbiter. Meanwhile, preparations are currently underway for a joint European/Russian mission in 2022, with Japan and India also planning separate Mars missions in the next couple of years.

As for the first human mission, there are no concrete plans yet, though we could see an attempt sometime in the 2030s, with NASA eyeing such a mission via its Artemis program.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch a replica of NASA’s Mars helicopter take flight on Earth
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.

Visitors to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California at the weekend got to see a life-sized replica of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter take flight.

Ingenuity made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. It’s since gone on to complete more than 50 Mars flights and has even assisted NASA’s ground-based Perseverance rover by taking aerial images to help the JPL team plan safe and efficient routes across the Martian surface.

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Ingenuity and Perseverance snap photos of each other on Mars
The Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars, in an image taken by the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity recently made its 50th flight.

Everyone's favorite Mars double act, the Ingenuity helicopter and the Perseverance rover, have been traveling together recently after spending several months apart. As they explore the site of an ancient river delta in the Jezero crater, the pair have snapped images of each other that were recently shared by NASA.

The Perseverance's cameras caught this great shot of Ingenuity, which, as noted in the rover's Twitter post, is now considerably dustier than it was when it first deployed from under the rover's belly two years ago. In its two years on the red planet, Ingenuity has made more than 50 flights, which is incredible when you consider that it was designed to perform just five flights. During that time, Ingenuity had to take a break from long flights to deal with the cold martian winter, but since the beginning of the year, the helicopter has been back, making some of its longest flights yet.

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NASA’s InSight lander looks into Mars to study the planet’s core
This artist’s concept shows a cutaway of Mars, along with the paths of seismic waves from two separate quakes in 2021. Detected by NASA’s InSight mission, these seismic waves were the first ever identified to enter another planet’s core.

NASA's Mars InSight lander may have come to the end of its mission last year, but data from the lander is still being used to contribute to science. Data that the lander collected on marsquakes, seismic events that are similar to earthquakes, has been used to get the best look yet at Mars's core.

The lander was armed with a highly sensitive seismometer instrument that could detect seismic waves as they moved through the martian interior. By looking at the way in which these waves bounced off boundaries and moved at different speeds through different materials, scientists can work out what the inside of a planet is composed of. The latest findings show that the martian core is around 2,220 miles across, which is smaller than previously thought. The core is also denser than previously believed The results also showed that around one-fifth of the core, which is made up of liquid iron alloy, is composed of sulfur, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.

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