NASA rover Perseverance is on the way to Mars following successful ULA Atlas V launch

With great fanfare, NASA’s next Mars rover Perseverance began its journey to Mars this morning atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance. The weather was clear as had been predicted for the last few days. In fact, conditions improved to 90% favorable shortly before launch.

The days and weeks leading up to launch saw a buildup of excitement around the mission. News outlets big and small have been covering the different aspects of the mission such as the launch, construction, science experiments, the landing phase, and so on. A flurry of interviews has been done with a wide array of individuals and experts including scientists, engineers, and even the schoolchildren who named the Perseverance rover and its small helicopter, Ingenuity.

The countdown proceeded with none of the usual troubles from the weather or mechanical gremlins. The one issue of note came from a small earthquake that was felt at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, California, an unusual point of concern for spaceflight. However, this is a contingency that is trained for by the teams there and the decision to proceed was made. The Atlas V roared to life at 7:50 a.m. ET and began the rover’s journey through a beautiful Florida morning sky.

The launch phase began its mission and proceeded through all of the different events of launch. First came the burnout and separation of the four solid rocket motors, followed by payload faring jettison then the cutoff and separation of the first stage. The Centaur second stage then ignited and shut down two separate times to send Perseverance out of Earth’s orbit and on its way.

Perseverance and its Atlas V rocket in flight. Image: Seth Kurkowski for

Some minor troubles arose after payload jettison, however. In a post-launch press conference, it was revealed that two issues were being looked at, the first being a thermal issue caused by the vehicle being eclipsed by the earth temporarily. The vehicle entered a “safe mode” but was still healthy according to officials. The second was communication trouble but, unlike the more common loss of signal troubles, this issue was that the spacecraft was overpowering ground stations. This issue was observed during the Curiosity mission and teams were prepared for it this time. During the press conference, an update was received saying that progress was being made on the resolution followed by a tweet later from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine saying that all was well.

By the time the sun had set today, all was well and Perseverance was on its journey to Mars. Attention will return to the rover in February 2021 when it will go through EDL (entry, descent, and landing), nicknamed “The 7 minutes of terror” by mission controllers because the rover will need to complete this task completely by itself with no assistance from Earth due to signal delays. But for now, designers and controllers are sleeping well tonight after the first dangerous part of this historic mission has come to a close.

Update July 31: In a brief statement from NASA, flight controllers said that they have returned their newest interplanetary spacecraft to nominal flight operations.

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