Thursday 30 July 2020 1:45 pm

Nasa launches ninth Mars mission in hunt for signs of past life

Nasa today launched its next-generation Mars rover from Florida on a $2.4bn mission to find signs of past life on the red planet.

The Perseverance rover was aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which is manufactured by the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. 

Once on Mars it will also deploy a mini helicopter and test out equipment for future human missions to the planet. It is expected to land there in February 2021.

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Marking Nasa’s ninth journey to Mars, Perseverance will land at the bottom of a 250-metre crater where scientists believe it may find evidence of potential past microbial life.

This was scheduled as the third launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.

Nasa’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed on the red planet in 1997, with two others later following suit — Spirit and Opportunity — to explore the geology of Mars.

They have previously detected signs of past water formations, among other discoveries. 

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Nasa also has successfully sent three landers to Mars — Pathfinder, Phoenix and Insight.

The US has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s as part of a programme that would involve using the moon as a testing platform for human missions, before making a more ambitious crewed journey to Mars.

Perseverance will carry out an experiment to convert elements of the Martian atmosphere into fuel for future rockets, or to produce breathable oxygen for future human missions.

The rover will also help bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, leaving them in various spots on the surface for retrieval by a future “fetch” rover.

That rover will then launch the samples back into space to link up with other spacecraft, eventually bringing them back to Earth around 2031.