A rocket carrying NASA’s new, cutting-edge Mars rover - aptly named Perseverance - blasted off from Florida on Thursday… on a mission to find signs of potential past life on the red planet.
The next-generation rover - a car-sized six-wheeled vehicle carrying seven scientific instruments and high definition cameras - is also traveling with a 4-pound mini helicopter.
It’s a major upgrade from the Mars rover ‘Curiosity’, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine: "Every single one of these missions gets more complex and more sophisticated and right now we have the single most sophisticated complex robot ever sent to another world." During a post-launch press conference, NASA’s Lori Glaze called the onboard helicopter a ‘fantastic experiment’: "This is going to be, of course, our first ever demonstration of powered flight on another planet.
But if you think what's required to fly to get lift from a wing - you need air to do that of course.
And the atmosphere on Mars is about one percent of the density of earth's atmosphere." The U.S. ultimately plans to send astronauts to Mars in about a decade.
But much before that - Perseverance is set to land on Mars in February, at the site of an ancient river delta.
Scientists suspect that location could bear evidence of potential past microbial life.
BRIDENSTINE: "We've been on this path of following the water to determine if some place is habitable or not.
Now we know there was, at one point in time, habitability on Mars.
We don't know if it was inhabited, but if we were to make a discovery that it in fact was... It will be absolutely the biggest discovery I think in history." NASA's ninth mission to Mars comes amid major challenges on earth, something Bridenstine acknowledged: "I'm not going to lie, it's a challenge.
It's very stressful.
But look, the teams made it happen.
We could not be more proud of what these, this integrated team was able to pull off here."
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