The Mars rover Perseverance successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday. Its ambitious mission will be to search for signs of life and even send back Martian rock samples for study here on Earth.
As The Associated Press reported, the spacecraft launched into clear skies aboard an Atlas V rocket and is expected to land in late February 2021. Specifically, it's headed to Jezero Crater, an ancient lake with extensive clay deposits and clear evidence of water having flowed billions of years ago.
Once there, the spacecraft, roughly the size of a car, will deploy drills, cameras, lasers, microphones, and other high-tech equipment to analyze rocks for signs of life. An instrument named SHERLOC will investigate the potential signatures of organic molecules and maybe even life. For the first time ever, a microphone will record the sounds of Mars.
Further, in a first-ever mission of its kind, the spacecraft will collect rock samples and, through a complicated inter-spacecraft relay, send them back to Earth to be analyzed. If all goes according to plan, those samples could be in the hands of human scientists by 2031.
But that's a big "if." The planet has come to be known as the Bermuda Triangle of space exploration, with more than half of the craft sent there failing to send back so much as a byte of data. Some have burned up in the Martian atmosphere or violently crashed while attempting to land, getting destroyed in the process. Others landed safely but failed to function. Still, others missed the mark entirely and are now uselessly floating through space.
NASA spokesperson Thomas Zurbuchen referenced that difficulty, as well as problems happening here on Earth, juxtaposed with the vehicle's name.
"There's a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard. In this case, it's harder than ever before because we're doing it in the midst of a pandemic," he said.
Joining Perseverance, according to IFL Science, will be a companion craft, Ingenuity, described as a "small helicopter." Unlike its cousin, Ingenuity isn't there to do much, other than prove that it works. Over the course of 30 days, the craft will fly in short bursts, potentially paving the way for later, more advanced drones to study the planet in the future.
Both spacecrafts' experiments are part of an overarching goal to possibly launch a manned mission to the red planet, possibly by the early 2030s.