NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover: What you need to know

Utrecht University geologist William McMahon explains the latest findings.

NASA is getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet.

The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 30 and closes on Aug 15, 2020.

Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.

“Perseverance is a robotic scientist weighing just under 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms),” explains NASA in a statement. “The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life on Mars, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect rock and soil samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

This illustration depicts NASA's Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration depicts NASA’s Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Notably, NASA’s Mars helicopter will hitch a ride on the Perseverance rover. A technology demonstration, the helicopter will test the first powered flight on Mars, according to the space agency.

Another technology demonstration called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) will produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere, which could be crucial as NASA works toward its long-term goal of eventually sending humans to Mars.

Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, told Fox News that the mission will get people talking about future space exploration.

This artist's concept shows the Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows the Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“I think this launch can really connect everybody to the realities of sending humans to Mars,” he said.

The Perseverance rover also follows hot on the heels of NASA’s historic Demo-2 mission with SpaceX, which recently launched astronauts into space from American soil for the first time since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

The launch was also the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sent astronauts into orbit.

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

“[Mars 2020 is] a really interesting mission – I think it’s really well timed in the context of what has been happening,” Carberry said.

NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

Citing repair issues, NASA recently pushed the start of the Mars 2020 launch window back from July 17 to July 20. A NASA spokesman told Fox News that the delay was not related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If the rover isn’t launched by mid-August, it would need to wait until 2022 when Earth and Mars are back in proper alignment. A two-year delay could add another $500 million to the nearly $3 billion mission.

Perseverance is one of three upcoming missions to Mars. The United Arab Emirates and China also are preparing spacecraft for launch to the red planet by mid-August.

NASA recently announced that the Perseverance rover will carry a small aluminum plate honoring health care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.