NASA’s Perseverance blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today (July 30) at 12.50pm BST (7.50am EDT, 4.50am PDT). After a tense countdown to liftoff, Perseverance was carried into orbit by a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket with the force of millions of pounds of thrust. The rocket’s second stage then pushed the Mars rover on transfer trajectory that will intercept the Red Planet next year.
Mic Woltman from NASA’s Launch Services Program said: “This is the burn that really gets us moving with fast velocity in the direction we need to go.”
On average, Mars and Earth are separated by about 140 million miles of space.
But as the planets orbit the Sun at different speeds, launching payloads to Mars can prove tricky.
An optimal transfer window only opens up every 26 months when both planets are in the right position.
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The transfer window ensures spacecraft use the least amount of fuel needed, as well as shortens the trip.
NASA said: “Just like you have to wait for Earth and Mars to be in the proper position before you head to Mars, you also have to make sure that they are in the proper position before you head home.
“That means you will have to spend three to four months at Mars before you can begin your return trip.
“All in all, your trip to Mars would take about 21 months: nine months to get there, three months there, and nine months to get back.
“With our current rocket technology, there is no way around this.”
All in all, your trip to Mars would take about 21 months
How long will it take Perseverance to get to Mars?
Perseverance is expected to reach the Red Planet in about seven months.
NASA’s engineers are prepared for a February 18, 2021, landing in Mars’ Jezero crater.
Jezero is a dried-up lakeshore that is believed to have been filled with water 3.5 billion years ago.
NASA said: “The Mars 2020 spacecraft follows an entry, descent, landing process similar to that used in landing the Mars rover, Curiosity.”
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NASA’s Curiosity rover entered the Martian atmosphere in a protective capsule that decelerated using parachutes about seven miles from the ground.
By this point, the spacecraft slowed down from about 13,200mph to 1,000mph.
About five miles from the ground, the capsule dropped its heat shield, exposing the rover.
The rover then disconnected from the capsule but stayed attached to a “sky crane” contraption.
The sky crane then fired eight retrorockets to kill off most speed for a steady landing.
The crane then carefully lowered Curiosity down to the ground, while descending at about 1.7mph.
Once the rover touched down, the sky crane detached and flew off to a distance of at least 490ft.
Perseverance will collect, analyse and store rock and soil samples for evidence of extraterrestrial life.
NASA hopes to recover these samples at a future date.
Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “In 2026, we’re going to launch a mission from Earth to Mars to go pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth.
“For the first time in history, we’re doing a Mars sample return mission.”
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