The summer’s third and final mission to Mars featuring NASA’s most elaborate life-hunting rover is on the verge of liftoff. The rover Perseverance will follow China’s rover-orbiter combo and a United Arab Emirates orbiter, both launched last week.
It will take the spacecraft seven months to reach Mars after travelling 300 million miles. Once on the surface, Perseverance will scrounge for evidence of past microscopic life in an ancient lakebed, and gather the most promising rock samples for future pickup.
NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to return the samples to Earth around 2031. This unprecedented effort will involve multiple launches and spacecraft and cost more than USD 8 billion. “We don’t know if life existed there or not. But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on the eve of launch.