Programs like Perseverance exist to lay the groundwork for future Mars mission planning, but there has been a recent shift in USA space policy to support the "Artemis" manned lunar program. Accordingly, the United Arab Emirates has already launched its Mars orbiter, called Hope, while China said bon voyage to its Tianwen-1 lander late last week.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is being prepared for launch from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.
The rover will land in Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient river delta that scientists believe may have collected and preserved potential signs of microbial life. But we do know that Mars, at one point in its history, was habitable.
Perseverance is slated to scrounge for evidence of past microscopic life in an ancient lakebed.
The rover will attempt for the first time to bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules and leaving them scattered on the surface for retrieval by a future "fetch" rover. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to return the samples to Earth around 2031. "Ingenuity", NASA's solar powered drone, will be the first craft to fly on another planet.
NASA is upping the ante with its newest rover headed to Mars.
"We know that we're going to make discoveries with the Mars Perseverance rover that are going to make us ask a whole lot more questions, just like every previous discovery", Bridenstine told Reuters. If all goes well next February, Perseverance will become the ninth USA spacecraft to operate on the Martian surface.
"We are literally chomping at the bit to take this nuclear-powered dune buggy out to Mars", he said earlier this week.
Perseverance, fit with 23 cameras, was named by essay contest victor Alex Mather, who wrote, "We will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars".