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Alabama’s ULA praised for role in Mars mission: ‘They gave us a perfect launch’

United Launch Alliance (ULA) was lauded by NASA officials for the performance of its Atlas V rocket in launching the Mars 2020 mission.

At a post-launch news conference on Thursday morning, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine went out of his way to praise ULA and its leadership for their role in the historic launch.

“It was an amazing launch, very successful,” began Bridenstine. “It went right on time and of course it is on a trajectory that has been done now with pinpoint accuracy. It was a great day for NASA. I want to say thank you to our partners at United Launch Alliance. Tory Bruno, your team did an absolute magnificent job. It could not have gone any better from a launch perspective.”

The Atlas V rocket tasked with carrying NASA’s Perseverance rover into space was built at ULA’s 1.6 million square foot facility in Decatur. It is the largest facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, was pleased with his team’s execution.

“We ended with an extraordinarily accurate orbital insertion,” he remarked in an understated manner.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) took to social media to recognize ULA, saying the launch was “paving the way for future human exploration.”

Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for NASA, also mentioned the accuracy of the Atlas V’s performance.

“They gave us a perfect launch this morning,” he said. “Right down the middle. Could not have aimed us any better.”

ULA’s ability to meet the demands of the launch schedule was something Wallace counted as critical to the success of the mission.

“[ULA] really pushed us hard to keep on this limited planetary launch window in 2020,” noted Wallace. “As most of you know, if you miss this window, you have to wait a couple years. So it was critically important for us to hit this. And I can’t say enough about the professionalism and the support they gave us over the last couple of months in particular.”

Wallace outlined that the spacecraft will spend the next six and a half months in cruise mode while NASA does a litany of checks to ensure the craft is ready to go for entry, descent and landing.

He called the spacecraft’s entry, descent and landing on the surface of Mars the “most difficult” part of the mission because the conditions are so challenging.

NASA expects the spacecraft to land on Mars on February 18, 2021.

This was ULA’s 140th mission, during which it has enjoyed a 100% success rate. It was the 85th for an Atlas V rocket.

Vice President Mike Pence offered his own congratulations to NASA and ULA, as well.

Upon arrival to Mars, Perseverance rover will explore the planet while gathering samples and performing groundbreaking tests to see if it can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Tucked beneath Perseverance will be a small helicopter called Ingenuity. The rotorcraft weighs four pounds and will operate under solar power. It received its name through a NASA contest won by an Alabama high school student.

The time delay between Earth and Mars will prevent Ingenuity from being controlled in any meaningful way, so it will fly the planet autonomously.

“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said prior to the launch.

RELATED: Alabama rocket launches NASA’s Perseverance rover toward Mars

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia