The space agency is sending its Perseverance rover – its strongest and smartest explorer visitor to the surface yet – to look for evidence of ancient life on the Martian surface.
The rover is carrying a helicopter that will make the first ever flight on another planet, as well as a variety of tools that will allow it to explore the surface looking for evidence of past alien activity.
The rocket is the third to take off for Mars this month, as space agencies leap through the brief window in which the planets align to allow an efficient trip to the Red Planet. The UAE launched its Hope orbiter last week, followed by the Chinese Questions to Heaven spacecraft shortly after.
Welcome to The Independent‘s coverage of Nasa’s mission to Mars.
The launch window opens at 7.50am local eastern time, or 12.50am in the UK.
Nasa has a two-hour window for the launch, meaning that if conditions are bad at the beginning, it will be able to wait it out in the hope that they will clear. (That is in contrast with recent launches like the crewed SpaceX mission, which either had to launch on time or couldn’t launch at all, leading its first attempt to be scrubbed.)
But the weather is looking pretty good. There is a 20 per cent chance that bad weather could cause problems – the concerns are with clouds expected above the launchpad.
Here’s the full rundown on where you can watch the launch today. (The answer: is a lot of places!)
Here’s a big roundup of what’s going to happen today – and why.
Here’s everything you need to know about the time of today’s launch – and why that’s important.
It’s a busy week for Nasa. Today is the Mars launch – then, with barely a moment to rest, Sunday will see two astronauts splash down off the Florida coast.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will arrive in the Crew Dragon spacecraft, called Endeavour, which was designed and built by SpaceX.
The duo will close out a mission that was designed to test SpaceX’s human spaceflight system, including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations, Nasa said.
You can read more about that launch – the last time Nasa conducted one on this scale – here.
SpaceX has sent Nasa astronauts into space in a historic mission. The Falcon 9 rocket carried the astronauts into orbit in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. Minutes after launch, the rocket detached and landed safely on a drone ship while the capsule continued to carry the astronauts on to the International Space Station.
Here’s a deeply interesting piece about “Mars Jars”, and their complicated history.
(Like all Nasa spacecraft, it tweets in the first person, which I suppose is nice but always makes me feel very sorry for the rovers, all that distance from Earth, never expected to return again from Mars, trundling around until they run out of battery and die.)
With 50 minutes or so left to go, Nasa’s live coverage has begun. You can find it here:
It’s bright and quiet morning at the Kennedy Space Centre. As you can see from the plastic shields, Nasa is still being very careful about the coronavirus outbreak – and there won’t be the same kind of crowds you’d normally get for this sort of launch.
Here’s an explanation of how the recent rovers have been advancing our understanding of possible life on Mars.
Here’s some of the kit Perseverance will be carrying in an attempt to better understand Mars.
Here’s the scene at the launchpad this morning. Everything is a “go” so far – looking like everything will be ready to go in about half an hour.
Gregory Porter is singing! He’s doing America The Brave to celebrate the launch.
Here’s some background on that from Reuters:
Jazz artist Gregory Porter, whose new single “Concorde” is an ode to space exploration, is set to perform on Thursday as part of a ceremony marking the launch of NASA’s next generation rover that will search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars.
The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter is scheduled to sing the Ray Charles version of “America The Beautiful” during the U.S. space agency’s broadcast of the countdown to the launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Porter said he will perform from his living room in Bakersfield, California because of the coronavirus pandemic. His record label said Porter was invited after NASA officials heard “Concorde.”
“I wrote the song when I was on an airplane thinking about the idea of ascension, both in the body but in the mind as well. Flying into the stratosphere,” Porter told Reuters. “And so, anyway, NASA caught wind of it and they were interested… in partnering in the release of the song and the release of the video.”
In the “Concorde” music video, Porter is dressed as an astronaut and appears opposite his young son, Demyan.
“When I’m floating around in the galaxy, hanging out with the stars, the sweetest thing to do is to come back down, to drop down to and to be on the soil and to be with your loved ones. And that’s what the song is about,” Porter said.
Porter said he has been a spaceflight fan since watching NASA’s first shuttle launch in 1981. He remembers as a 9 year old being concerned about how the astronauts would return to Earth and making sure they landed back at Edwards Air Force Base, not far from his childhood home.
The robotic rover is intended to study Martian geology and seek signs of ancient microbial life.
Mimi Aung, who worked on the Mars helicopter project, just said that there’s been an “earthquake” where she is.
But otherwise she’s speaking in detail about the difficulties of building Ingenuity, the helicopter that will fly across Mars.
You can read more on that here.
The earthquake is in California, where the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is based. The rocket isn’t launching from there – but many of the engineers who are overseeing the launch are.
Seems like everything is OK.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that it’s good news that the rocket isn’t launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That’s where the InSight lander went from.
With just over 10 minutes left until launch, the countdown is going ahead. Nasa team is ready to proceed.
Earthquake doesn’t seem to have caused any major problems.
6-and-a-half minutes until liftoff.
Everything is on track for a launch as expected: at 7.50 local time, or 12.50 UK, or five minutes or so.
2 minutes until launch.
Please allow a moment for the live blog to load.