NASA Successfully Launches Mars Rover Perseverance to Collect Signs of Ancient Life
Perseverance is expected to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021
This Mars rover continues to persevere on its way to the Red Planet.
On Thursday morning, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket had a successful launch from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:50 a.m. ET, NASA reported. The spacecraft carried with it the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which will collect rock and soil samples on the planet in the hopes of finding evidence of ancient life.
About an hour into the flight, Perseverance successfully detached, completing a spacecraft separation and charting its path toward Mars.
"I’m flying free now, having separated from the Centaur. That was quite a ride! Thank you, @ULAlaunch and @NASA_LSP. ⭐ #CountdownToMars," read a message from the official Perseverance Twitter account.
Perseverance's mission duration is at least one Mars year, which translates to about 687 Earth days. It will land on the Jezero Crater on Mars, an area scientists believe could have been a "possible oasis in its distant past."
"Between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediments packed with carbonite minerals and clay," according to a press release. "The Perseverance science team believes this ancient river delta could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories
Alexander Mather, a seventh grade student at the Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, submitted the winning entry for NASA’s “Name the Rover” essay contest. The 13-year-old’s suggestion for the rover’s title “captured the spirit of exploration,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said at a presentation at the school in March.
“Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries,” Zurbuchen said at the time. “It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today — processing for launch.
He added: "Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars."
RELATED VIDEO: American Astronauts Blast Off in Historic NASA-SpaceX Launch: 'A Unique Moment in Time'
The goals for the 2020 Mars endeavor also aim to explore and analyze the geology of the planet's environment to "assess ancient habitability." Another desired outcome is to "demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration" to the planet.
"Over the past two decades, missions flown by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program have shown us that Mars was once very different from the cold, dry planet it is today," according to a press release. "Evidence discovered by landed and orbital missions point to wet conditions billions of years ago. These environments lasted long enough to potentially support the development of microbial life."
Perseverance is expected to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.