NASA Mars rover completes preflight checks ahead of this week’s launch

NASA’s Perseverance rover headed for Mars this week officially cleared all required Flight Readiness Reviews, pushing the mission one step closer to its launch pad rollout and liftoff. Launch provider ULA (United Launch Alliance) announced the milestone earlier today.

“The Launch Readiness Review (LRR) has given the approval to continue preparations for Thursday’s liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Mars 2020 mission,” ULA’s official mission page stated. “Leadership from ULA, NASA and the Space Force assessed the readiness of the rocket, payload and mission assets, discussed the status of pre-flight processing work, heard technical overviews of the countdown and flight, and previewed the weather forecast that continues to be favorable with an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions. At the conclusion of the meeting, senior leaders were polled and gave a unanimous ready status for launch, then signed the Launch Readiness Certificate.”

NASA followed with two separate live-streamed conferences in an effort to both inform and engage the public about the mission’s details and goals. During the first pre-launch event, key executives for the mission expressed their pride in the Perseverance rover team while making particular note of the challenging circumstances faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every day was taking the kids to work day,” mused Omar Baez, NASA’s Senior Launch Director.

Keeping the 2020 Mars rover mission on schedule has been vitally important compared to other launches due to the timing involved with the seven-month journey to the red planet. “We have a 20 day planetary launch window, and if we miss it, we’re pushing out another couple of years,” explained Matt Wallace, Perseverance’s Deputy Project Manager, during the first conference. NASA’s second conference of the day focused on the engineering details behind the rover’s instruments to fulfill its three primary missions of seeking signs of life, collecting/caching samples, and testing future technologies.

The 2020 rover has many unique instruments that make it stand out from NASA’s other rovers and landers currently residing on Mars. As part of making the search for ancient microbial life its mission priority, Perseverance has a large robotic arm with a multi-bit drill attached for gathering and storing scientifically interesting samples. These specimens will later be brought to Earth as part of a “sample return” mission.

NASA’s newest Mars rover will additionally have two technology tests aboard – one that generates oxygen from the planet’s carbon dioxide atmosphere, the other a small helicopter for gathering aerial data, and enabling more widespread travel possibilities. Perhaps most relatable to many humans’ day-to-day, however, is Perseverance’s “selfie” capabilities. Not just limited to snaps surrounded by regolith and red mountains, once descent and landing begin from Martian orbit, the rover’s numerous cameras will capture the entire event on video and send the footage back to NASA’s team and the public alike.

Perseverance will accomplish its tasks using power provided by a plutonium-238 nuclear energy source with a 14-year lifespan. As the isotope decays, heat is generated and converted into electricity to charge the rover’s batteries. This part of the mission was activated and loaded with Perseverance into its ULA Atlas V rocket last week.

NASA plans the mission’s launch pad rollout tomorrow with an early morning liftoff on Thursday, July 30th.

NASA Mars rover completes preflight checks ahead of this week’s launch
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