Miami, Jul 30 (efe-epa).- Nasa’s new Perseverance rover took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday headed for the Red Planet in search of evidence of ancient life.
The spacecraft blasted off at 7:51 local time aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which was also carrying an “Ingenuity” helicopter.
It is the third mission heading to Mars this month following launches in China and the United Arab Emirates. Mars’ orbit around the Sun has brought it closer than usual to our planet.
Ahead of liftoff, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “There’s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard. It’s never been easy. In this case, it’s harder than ever before because we’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic.”
Once it had left the Earth’s atmosphere, the rocket soared to an altitude of 260 kilometers and 45 minutes after lift off it triggered the second stage thrusters that set Perseverance on course to exit Earth’s orbit.
The rover, which Nasa says is the most sophisticated it has ever sent to Mars, is expected to land in the Jezero crater in February.
The crater is believed to have been a lake billions of years ago, when Mars was warmer and wetter.
Scientists hope to find evidence of ancient microbial life preserved in the mud of the lake.
The mission also hopes to “characterize the planet’s geology and climate, collect carefully selected and documented rock and sediment samples for possible return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration beyond the Moon,” Nasa said in a statement.
Landing on Mars is fraught with risks due to the planet’s thin atmosphere.
Nasa has only been able to successfully land a handful of operational rovers onto the surface of Mars, with over half of the probes and spacecraft crashing into the planet or exploding on impact.
Perseverance will take samples of Martian soil and atmosphere that will be sent to Earth to determine if carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can be transformed into oxygen for future missions.
The Ingenuity helicopter accompanying the rover is the first time scientists have tried to fly a device “in a controlled way” on another planet. EFE-EPA