Special delivery: NASA Mars rover journeys to KSC ahead of July launch

Name of robot to be announced in March

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA’s next Mars rover traveled from California to Kennedy Space Center Wednesday in preparation for a July launch to the red planet.

The currently unnamed rover, known as Mars 2020, left NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California where it was built and flew via C-17 to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center arriving Wednesday around 3 p.m., KSC officials said.

The C-17 aircraft carrying the rover landed on the 3-mile long former space shuttle runway, called the Launch and Landing Facility.

After its arrival, the rover will be moved to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility where it will await processing prior to launch.

Other elements of the mission were already at KSC. The rover’s heat shield and backshell arrived at the space center in January, according to NASA.

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In July, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will blast off from Cape Canaveral, sending the rover on its journey to the red planet. The launch window opens July 17 and ends Aug. 5.

After liftoff, the journey will take about eight months arriving on Feb. 18, 2021.

Ahead of the launch, NASA plans to officially name the roving robot with the help of K-12 students. Nine finalist names were submitted by U.S. students and then NASA opened voting up to the world to make the final decision. More than 770,000 votes were cast, according to the space agency.

The rover’s official name will be revealed sometime in March. The student with the winning name will be invited to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch.

When the rover lands on Mars, it will begin its investigation of the red planet in the Jezero Crater.

Mars 2020 will follow in the tracks of its predecessor, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. Although it looks very similar, the new rover is equipped with a whole new suite of science instruments.

The new rover has the ability to collect samples from the red planet and has a microphone that will capture the first sounds of Mars. This week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed NASA is planning several follow up spacecraft missions to collect and return the first samples to Earth.

The robot also has a rock-blasting laser, called SuperCam, that will identify minerals on Mars.

If a robot firing lasers doesn’t sound interesting already, here’s how NASA describes it: “It fires a pulsed laser beam out of the rover’s mast, or ‘head,’ to vaporize small portions of rock from a distance.”

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