NASA and United Launch Alliance successfully launched a rover and helicopter to Mars from Florida’s coast Thursday morning.
This mission has been more than seven years in the making and was designed to search for signs of life on Mars and collect samples to return to Earth.
The ULA Atlas V liftoff happened right on time at 7:50 a.m. Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the rocket sending the rover named Perseverance and the chopper nicknamed Ingenuity on their journey to the red planet.
The weather was beautiful for the launch, according to the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron, with a 90% chance of favorable launch conditions. A few clouds could be seen on the Space Coast around sunrise.
See highlights from the countdown below and re-watch the liftoff at the top of this story.
NASA and the spacecraft carrying its Mars rover and helicopter are successfully communicating after signal acquisition. Perseverance is officially headed to Mars!
Thanks for the lift, @NASA_LSP and @ulalaunch! We’ll take it from here. Watching and waiting in mission control for the acquisition of signal from @NASAPersevere on its way to Mars.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) July 30, 2020
See a live visualization of the transmission at https://t.co/V3WGqQJ2Uj pic.twitter.com/r39ZlvZfLt
8:50 a.m. Spacecraft officially en route to Mars
The spacecraft carrying the rover has separated from the Atlas V Centaur stage and is on it’s way to the red planet. NASA is now waiting for the signal from the spacecraft to confirm all is well.
The rover will land on Mars in February.
8:10 a.m. Final Mars launch of the year
Perseverance marked the third mission that launched to the red planet this year. Every two years Earth and Mars are on the same side of the sun, requiring less power to launch to the red planet.
UAE and China launched their independent missions earlier in July. Read more about those missions here.
The Mars launch window opens in mid-July for about 30 days.
7:50 a.m. ‘A beautiful liftoff'
Atlas V launched at 7:50 a.m. sending NASA’s Mars rover and helicopter on its seven-month journey to Mars.
It was “a beautiful liftoff,” remarked one of the NASA launch commentators.
However, the most important stages are still coming up. About an hour after liftoff the spacecraft will separate from Atlas V and NASA will need to acquire the signal from the spacecraft. That happens around 8:47 a.m.
Then the spacecraft will begin it’s trip to Mars, arriving in February.
7:45 a.m. Go for launch
After a quick poll, Launch Director Bill Cullen says “you have permission to launch.”
The launch is on track for an on time liftoff at 7:50 a.m.
GO for launch! The final readiness poll by Launch Conductor Scott Barney is complete, Launch Director Bill Cullen confirms readiness of #AtlasV and has given permission to launch Mars 2020. Watch the liftoff at 7:50amEDT: https://t.co/iq4oKMrMuA— ULA (@ulalaunch) July 30, 2020
7:30 ‘A little shake up'
During NASA’s livestream from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the Perseverance rover was built, engineer MiMi Aung says they just experienced an earthquake.
JPL controls the rover and spacecraft carrying it to Mars.
“Good thing we’re not launching from Vandenberg today,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine quipped.
A 4.5 magnitude earthquake happened near San Fernando, California. The quake is not expected to delay the liftoff from Florida.
7:20 a.m. It’s a beautiful day to go to Mars
Launch viewers are headed out to the Space Coast to watch the Atlas V rocket launch NASA’s Mars rover.
“Things are looking great for launch, we are go,” 45th Space Wing Launch Weather Officer Jessica Williams said, confirming all launch commitment criteria are in good standing.
Weather has improved to 90% favorable.
Dawn at launch pad 41 where at 7:50 this morning, @NASA, @ulalaunch open two-hour window for liftoff of most complex Mars mission ever - @NASAPersevere #Mars2020 #MarsPerseverance @news6wkmg: https://t.co/rIDOj7STfD pic.twitter.com/nYdc8udSad— James Sparvero (@News6James) July 30, 2020
7 a.m. Rocket fueling underway
The countdown clock is ticking down to 7:50 a.m. and ULA is almost finished fueling the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral.
Weather remains positive with an 80% chance of favorable conditions for the two hour launch window from 7:50 to 9:50 a.m.
We are just one hour away from #AtlasV launching Mars 2020 mission to seek signs of past life, set aside a cache with the most compelling rock core and soil samples for shipment to Earth and demonstrate technology needed for the future human and robotic exploration of Mars. pic.twitter.com/KHXakS6sKd— ULA (@ulalaunch) July 30, 2020
5:30 p.m. Take a look at Perseverance and all its gadgets
Click on the graphic below to see a rundown of all the rover’s science instruments from cameras to weather monitoring tools and MOXIE, which is designed to produce oxygen from the Martian air.
3 p.m. Live views of the launch pad
A camera at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is showing live views of Atlas standing tall on the launch pad ready for Thursday’s morning liftoff.
July 29, 12 p.m.
NASA Administrator makes final remarks before liftoff.
“Life may very well still exist on Mars today” - @JimBridenstine opens #Mars2020 mission briefing the day before @NASAPersevere is scheduled to liftoff for @NASA’s eleventh mission to Mars (would be ninth robotic landing). @news6wkmg pic.twitter.com/uAzMSQ6fag— James Sparvero (@News6James) July 29, 2020
11 a.m. Best viewing options
ULA shared this visibility map of the launch track for the Atlas V. People from all over Florida and Southern Georgia should be able to see the rocket at varies times in the flight path.
Wondering when and where you may see the #AtlasV launch of Mars 2020? This visibility map shows when and where your best chances are to see the rocket in the Southeastern U.S.! Launch is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 7:50amEDT from Cape Canaveral. #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/TvenL8IlDv— ULA (@ulalaunch) July 29, 2020