Nasa’s facilities have been hit by an earthquake in California as it prepares for its mission to Mars.
The earthquake, which took place only one mile from San Fernando in California, does not appear to have caused any delay to the launch, which is happening on the other coast of the US, in Florida.
But facilities that will be key to the launch, including Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – which is based in California – were affected by the 4.5 magnitude earthquake.
It hit while reporters were interviewing engineer and project manager MiMi Aung about the helicopter that is set to be released by the Perseverance rover once it lands on Mars.
The Martian atmosphere is 99 percent less dense than on Mars, and the gravity is 38 percent weaker, which makes flying a helicopter a particularly challenging task.
Potential uses of the helicopter could include scouting ahead of human explorers and investigating caves and craters. It could also be used to carry small payloads across the planet.
“By the way, we just had an earthquake in this room”, MiMi Aung said. Although objects were rattled, but there has been no significant effects on the launch of the rocket.
On Nasa’s livestream, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine noted it was lucky that the rocket was not launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is also in California and has seen Nasa launches before.
Many viewers commented on Twitter that the earthquake was a benefit, as it woke them up in time to watch the Perseverance mission launch.
Nasa can only go to Mars once every 26 months, so missing this launch window would mean a cost of half a billion dollars to maintain the rover before it could launch again.
The trip to Mars had already been delayed twice before, because of contamination problems and issues with a crane at the pad.
More news can be found on The Independent‘s liveblog of the launch.
The Nasa mission will send the rover Perseverence to search for traces of potential alien life.
The car-sized six-wheeled robotic rover, ]will launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance.
Officials indicated that all systems appeared ready to go ahead of the launch, with weather forecasts from the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron remaining at an 80 percent probability of launch and fuelling preparations underway for the rocket.
Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars. Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harboured life.
Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and the Martian surface billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.
However, scientists are unsure whether alien life could have survived in the water. Although the waters in Martian lakes appear to have a similar pH to that in Earth’s oceans, other scientists have argued that it would be far too cold for life to survive.
One of the most complex manoeuvres in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.
It is the latest launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.
Aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.
Additional reporting by agencies