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NASA’s Perseverance rover bound for Mars to seek ancient life

NASA’s Perseverance rover bound for Mars to seek ancient life

AFP
Cape Canaveral
NASA’s latest Mars rover Perseverance launched on Thursday on an astrobiology mission to look for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet -- and to fly a helicopter-drone on another world for the first time.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket took off on schedule at 7:50 am (1150 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the first stage separated minutes later.
About an hour after launch, the spaceship carrying Perseverance to Mars broke away from the upper-stage Centaur rocket.
If all goes to plan, Perseverance will reach Mars on February 18, 2021, becoming the fifth rover to complete the voyage since 1997.
So far, all have been American. China launched its first Mars rover last week, which should arrive by May 2021.
By next year, Mars could have three active rovers, including NASA’s Curiosity, which has traversed 23 kilometres (14 miles) of the Martian surface since it landed in 2012.
Thursday’s launch also took place despite a raging coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the United States harder than any country.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said the pandemic made it even more important that mission went ahead as planned.
“We have a history of doing amazing things in the most challenging times, and this is this is no different,” he said, shortly before take-off.
Perseverance is an improved version of Curiosity -- faster, smarter, and capable of autonomously navigating 200 meters per day.
About the size of a small SUV, it weighs a metric ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones -- which scientists hope will be the first to record sound on Mars. It has a two-meter-long robotic arm, and is powered by a small nuclear battery.
Once on the surface, NASA will deploy the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter -- a small 1.8 kilogramme (four pound) aircraft that will attempt to fly in an atmosphere that is only one percent the density of Earth’s.