Mars rover launched to the Red Planet
7:50 AM est. atop an Atlas V in the 541 configuration from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 30th 2020
Mars 2020 is underway as the rover named "Perseverance" has lifted off from Earth for the 6.5 month journey to Mars. Scheduled to land on February 18th of 2021, the rover will touch down and explore the Jezero crater in search of signs of ancient life and to collect rock and soil samples that will return to Earth for study. This is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long term effort of robotic exploration on the Red Planet. Equipped with a drill that can collect core samples of the rock and soil substrate the rover will set aside a cache of samples to be returned for studying in laboratories that utilizes equipment that would be too large to bring to Mars. Another key aspect of this mission is to test if the production of oxygen is possible from the Martian atmosphere. If possible, sustaining human life on Mars becomes just a little bit easier, and brings us closer to our goal of colonizing the Planet.
About every two years there is a window of mere weeks were Earth and Mars are the closest they will be together, this few week window lasts between July 30th and August 15th 2020, making it the most ideal time for launching. With the 45th Space Wing's weather forecast at 7:20 AM est moving up to 90% GO for launch on the 30th, the rocket lifted off on time to send "Perseverance" towards its final travel destination.
ULA (United Launch Alliance) has provided every rocket launched to bring NASA to Mars. This mission using the Mighty Atlas V in the 541 configuration. Nicknamed "The Dominator" the 541 means it has a 5 meter fairing, making the overall height of the rocket 197 ft tall. 4 AJ-60A SRB's (solid rocket boosters) provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The 1 standing for the one RL10C-1 engine for the Centaur Upper stage. This is the same configuration that launched "Curiosity", the last NASA rover to explore the surface of the Red Planet. This marks the 139th mission for ULA, and with an overall 100% success rate, they make an obvious choice. This is only the 7th launch of an Atlas V in the 541 configuration of the 85 total Atlas V launches since it's debut in 2002.
Only having just been named less than a year ago after a contest with over twenty eight thousand entrants, we know of the name "Perseverance" but many don't know it's construction began sever years ago under the direction of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Alexander Mather, a seventh grader from Springfield, VA. submitted the essay which would win the rover the title "Perseverance"
"Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future."
The rover itself is about ten feet long, nine feet wide, and seven feet tall and weighs about 2,260 in total. In addition to all the roving capabilities it carries it comes equipped with a unique item that will also help us learn more of the Planet Mars. A twin rotor, solar powered helicopter. It's considered by NASA a high risk, high reward demonstration. Meaning that if the small craft encounters difficulties the science gathering mission won't be impacted, but if it does work as designed it will pave the way for future Mars missions to add aerial impute to their data collecting.