If the weather holds (it’s looking 80% likely for a “go” right now) and the rocket gods smile on us, in a little under six hours the next NASA/JPL rover will be on its way to Mars atop a ULA Atlas V rocket.
Perseverance is an SUV-sized, nuclear-powered rover packed with experiments to search for signs of life on Mars. It will also cache a handful of samples for return to Earth, hopefully being picked up by the 2026 rover. It’s got even more and higher resolution cameras than Curiosity does (Curiosity is still going strong BTW, now it its 2,837th sol of its 687 sol mission), including cameras that will give us a HD view of the “seven minutes of terror” that are what it takes to land on Mars.
Finally, Perseverance also has experiments that will start to look toward humans being on Mars. There are multiple samples of spacesuit materials that will be exposed to the Martian environment (dust, wind, perchlorates in the soil, radiation, cold) as well as an experiment that will demonstrate how oxygen can be removed from the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and stored for human use.
Also being carried by Perseverance is Ingenuity, a helicopter drone that has been designed to fly in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars. It’s stowed underneath the body of Perseverance, but after landing it will be unfolded, put on the ground, and Perseverance will drive away and expose Ingenuity.
(If you don’t think any of this is super, duper, über cool, then please unfollow me now…)
For the rest of us, NASA-TV coverage starts at 07:00 EDT (04:00 PDT, god help me!) with the launch window opening at 07:50 EDT (04:50 PDT).
We might be fighting COVID and actual demons, but let’s not forget that there are reasons we’re fighting. Family, friends, and freedom may be at the absolute top of the list of reasons, but stuff like this is pretty solidly in the Top Ten in my book.