With the Mars Perseverance Rover, NASA looks set to explore the red planet again. It’s just passed its flight readiness check and will launch this week. Via Space.com:
Mission team members have some wiggle room if technical issues or bad weather scuttle the Thursday attempt. Mars 2020 can still make its way to the Red Planet as long as it launches by Aug. 15, NASA officials have said. After that, the mission would have to wait 26 months, until Mars and Earth are properly aligned again for interplanetary journeys.
Whenever it lifts off, Perseverance will touch down inside Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero hosted a lake and a river delta in the ancient past, and Perseverance will characterize the area in detail and search for possible signs of ancient Mars life. The six-wheeled robot will also collect and cache several dozen samples that will be returned to Earth, possibly as early as 2031, by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign.
Mars 2020 will also test out several new exploration technologies. For example, one of Perseverance’s 10 instruments, called MOXIE (short for “Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment”), will generate oxygen from the thin, carbon dioxide-dominated Martian atmosphere. Such gear, if scaled up, could aid future human exploration of the Red Planet, NASA officials have said.