CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Despite a global pandemic and a looming tropical system, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday morning.
“Everybody worked extremely hard to make this happen during very difficult times, and the reason is to bring hope and inspiration to the country and to the world and we’re going to continue to do that because that’s what NASA is here for,” NASA deputy administrator Jim Morhard said.
After a six-and-a-half-month journey, Perseverance will land on the surface of Mars, where it will collect and store rock and soil samples in a search for signs of ancient life.
The plutonium-powered rover will also collect data on the planet’s climate and geology, paving the way for human exploration.
NASA has taken extra precautions to make sure Perseverance launches during it limited planetary window, which closes in mid-August.
“We’re launching to Mars in the middle of a pandemic, and Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley) will hopefully be coming back on Sunday,” Morhard said.
Behnken and Hurley launched to the International Space Station in late May and are scheduled to return as soon as this Sunday. But, a tropical system could delay the first agency splashdown in 45 years.
“We have to figure out what’s the optimum point for them to come home,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “August 2 is the first opportunity, but it’s not necessary they come on August 2. There’s lots of opportunities. There’s lots of time. We don’t want to push anything. Our number one highest priority is to bring them home safely.”