NASA head: Alabama-powered mission is history’s first aimed specifically at finding life on another planet
Alabama is once again set to make history with the scheduled Thursday morning launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission.
Atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, the Perseverance rover is set to blast off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The rocket was built at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur.
This was highlighted at a NASA press conference on Wednesday ahead of the scheduled launch.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine of the Mars 2020 mission said, “I’m exceptionally excited about what we’re about to do.”
He explained this will mark the ninth robot that the agency has landed on the planet. ULA and its heritage rockets have launched every previous U.S.-led mission to Mars, beginning in the 1960s. In fact, the launch of this latest mission will mark ULA’s 20th trip to Mars.
While the discoveries already made from prior missions are amazing — including that liquid water once was prevalent on Mars and that life might still exist under the Red Planet’s surface, Mars 2020 is expected to reveal even more groundbreaking information, Bridenstine outlined. He thanked ULA for making the mission possible.
“[T]his is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars,” he emphasized. “It’s a great day.”
“Are we going to be able to do that? We don’t know. We don’t know if life existed there or not. But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable. We don’t know that it was inhabited, but we know that it was habitable,” Bridenstine continued. “And now we’re actually, no kidding, going to do an astrobiology mission to the surface of Mars.”
He then mentioned that President Donald Trump has challenged NASA with planting an American flag on Mars in the near future as part of the Artemis program.
“In order to do that, we’re going to need to send humans,” Bridenstine noted. “And when we send humans to Mars, they’re going to have to be able to breath, and we can’t take all of that oxygen with us [to the planet]. So in this mission (Mars 2020), we have a technology demonstration called ‘Moxie.’ We’re going to take the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars and we’re going to turn it into oxygen, so that when humans get there, we know that we know that we know that we’re going to be able to create the oxygen necessary for life support.”
He further stressed that another important Mars 2020 technology demonstration will come in the form of the Ingenuity helicopter.
According to NASA, the helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover. The vehicle will eventually deploy and operate on its own throughout the planet; the helicopter will become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, per NASA. Ingenuity, weighing four pounds and operating under solar power, was named by an Alabama high school student.
Per a tweet from NASA, Vaneeza Rupani — the Tuscaloosa County high school student who named Ingenuity — will attend Thursday’s launch in-person.
“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” Bridenstine advised.
You can watch the full press conference below:
We’re going back to Mars tomorrow with our @NASAPersevere rover!
— NASA (@NASA) July 29, 2020
You can follow along with the Mars 2020 mission here, courtesy of NASA, including a launch countdown clock.
The launch is scheduled for 6:50 a.m. CT on Thursday; you can watch the launch live via NASA TV or ULA’s website here. The broadcast will begin about 50 minutes prior to the two-hour launch window opening.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn