NASA rover is step­ping stone to send­ing hu­mans to Mars

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - An­to­nia Jaramillo Florida TO­DAY USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

BRE­VARD COUNTY, Fla. – It’s the sum­mer of Mars.

In the past few weeks, two space­craft have been launched to the Red Planet, and on Thurs­day, one more was sent.

Af­ter the United Arab Emi­rates and China launched their space­craft to Mars this month, the United States has got­ten in on the ac­tion.

United Launch Al­liance’s At­las V rocket, equipped with NASA’s Mars Per­se­ver­ance rover, launched Thurs­day morn­ing from Cape Canaveral Air Force Sta­tion in Florida.

Per­se­ver­ance would be NASA’s fifth rover to reach the Mar­tian sur­face.

Per­se­ver­ance will bring the space agency one step closer in tak­ing hu­mans to Mars.

“Per­se­ver­ance is ... the bridge be­tween sci­ence and hu­man ex­plo­ration that demon­strates how the two can sup­port and re­in­force each other,” said Thomas Zur­buchen, NASA’s as­so­ci­ate ad­min­is­tra­tor for the Sci­ence Mis­sion Direc­torate, last week.

“Ba­si­cally, Per­se­ver­ance will bring all hu­man senses to Mars. We’ll sense the air around it, see and scan the hori­zon, hear the planet with mi­cro­phones on the sur­face for the first time,” Zur­buchen said. “Per­haps even taste (the sam­ples) ... as other in­stru­ments sam­ple the chem­istry and the rocks and soil around it. As hu­mans pre­pare for the great­est ad­ven­ture here in (hu­man) ex­plo­ration of Mars, our ro­bots can help.”

Per­se­ver­ance marks the first time the space agency at­tempts a sam­plere­turn mis­sion from Mars or from any other planet.

Through­out its 10-year mis­sion, the rover will search for past signs of ex­trater­res­trial life by col­lect­ing and caching Mar­tian rock sam­ples. Then, in 2026, a mis­sion will send a sam­ple re­turn lan­der to col­lect the sam­ples and re­turn them to Earth for sci­en­tists to study.

“It’s go­ing to be the first launch off of the planet Mars,” Zur­buchen told FLORIDA To­day, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work, in Fe­bru­ary. “But we’re al­ready think­ing about how to launch off (Mars) with peo­ple, be­cause that’s go­ing to be the core piece of the crowning achieve­ment of that Artemis pro­gram.” Artemis is NASA’s pro­gram to head back to the moon by 2024.

Aside from learn­ing how to launch off an­other planet, NASA also needs to fig­ure out how to sus­tain hu­man life on Mars so the space agency can even­tu­ally send as­tro­nauts to the Mar­tian sur­face, NASA ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine told re­porters Mon­day.

One of the rover’s in­stru­ments, the Mars Oxy­gen In-Situ Re­source Uti­liza­tion Ex­per­i­ment will seek to demon­strate how fu­ture ex­plor­ers might pro­duce oxy­gen from the Mar­tian at­mos­phere for pro­pel­lant and for breath­ing.

NASA

An artist’s ren­der­ing of the new Mars Rover Per­se­ver­ance, which is ex­pected to reach the Red Planet in 2021.

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