NASA’s next Mars mission is go for launch, with a new rover — and a helicopter

Mars seen from Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, during its closest approach to Earth in 2018. (Courtesy Greg Redfern)

Starting 7:50 a.m. Thursday, July 30, NASA will have a window of opportunity until Aug. 15 to send its next Mars mission on its way.

If the launch is successful, the nuclear-powered rover named Perseverance will begin its seven-month voyage to Mars and land in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

But getting to Mars is easy. Landing is the hard part.

Known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror” (one of the BEST videos ever made by NASA JPL that still gives me goose bumps), the one-ton rover, safely ensconced in its spacecraft while traveling through the Solar System, must go through an elaborate and automated choreography of split-second actions.

NASA has a track record of successful Mars landings, but the vast distance between Mars and Earth makes for a nail-biting wait of over 19 minutes before telemetry can confirm that the spacecraft survived its descent.

Perseverance will join NASA’s Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars, but at a different location and with a different objective. Perseverance is dedicated to finding evidence of ancient life on Mars and collect samples for future return to Earth.

Perseverance will also carry microphones in an attempt to let earthlings listen to the sounds of Mars. Oh, and Perseverance will deploy the first ever helicopter, Ingenuity, to operate beyond Earth!

NASA invites you to participate in the launch of Perseverance by signing up for social media activities. Nearly 11 million names, mine included, are headed to Mars on Perseverance. If you missed out on sending yours, you can sign up for future “Send Your Name To Mars.”

You can also watch live on launch day starting at 7 a.m. eastern time.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover will be following two other Mars missions that were launched earlier this month. The United Arab Emirates’ Mars Hope Orbiter and China’s own Tianwen 1, the latter of which is an ambitious orbiter, lander, and rover mission.

These are the first missions to Mars for each country, launched on July 19 and July 23, respectively. Russia has yet to fully complete a Mars mission while India was successful in its first try with their Mars orbiter. The European Space Agency also has an ongoing and robust Mars exploration program.

I hope you will sign up and tune in with NASA to follow Perseverance and Ingenuity on their way to Mars and the excitement of exploration to come.

By the way, you can see Mars for yourself by looking in the eastern sky after midnight. Mars will be brightening in the months to come until it will be at its brightest and closest to Earth come October.

Wave when you look, and wish these intrepid robots a safe landing and successful mission.

Ponder this too when looking at Mars in the sky: Will we find evidence of ancient life? What will Mars sound like? A helicopter view of the Red Planet?

Wow! Stay tuned!

Follow my daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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