Last year in December, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover had passed its first driving test at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The rover “earned its driver’s license” and now it has been transported to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to begin the final preparations for its launch to the Red Planet in July this year.
Two Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo planes carried the Mars 2020 rover along with the cruise stage, descent stage, and Mars Helicopter to the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida completing a 3,700-kilometer trip from the JPL, California, NASA said in a statement.
“Our rover has left the only home it has ever known,” said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. “The 2020 family here at JPL is a little sad to see it go, but we’re even more proud knowing that the next time our rover takes to the skies, it will be headed to Mars.”
The rover, cruise stage, descent stage and other mission support equipment were transported in four police-escorted trucks to the US Air Force’s March Air Reserve Base on February 11, where they were loaded aboard the two waiting C-17s to reach Kennedy. The rover’s protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet — also known as aeroshell — arrived at Kennedy in December 2019.
What happens next
“Within hours of arriving at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, the 11 pallets of Mars 2020 spacecraft will be transported to the same spacecraft processing facility that in 2011 handled NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is currently exploring Mars’ Gale Crater,” NASA said in a statement.
Following the cross-country flight, the Mars 2020 assembly, test, and launch operations team will begin testing the components to assess their health later this week. In late June, the unnamed Mars 2020 rover will be enclosed in its aeroshell for the final time after months of final assembly and additional testing. Afterwards, it will be delivered to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 41 to be integrated with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will hurl it toward Mars in early July.
Mars 2020 rover mission
We already know that the Mars 2020 rover will hunt for ancient life on Mars’ Jezero Crater. It will collect and store rock and soil samples in sealed tubes and search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, and pave the way for human exploration.
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“Subsequent missions, currently in the planning stages, will return to Jezero Crater, gather the samples collected by Mars 2020 and return them to Earth for the sort of in-depth study that only a full-size lab can provide,” NASA said.
The space agency informed that JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for NASA whereas its Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will be responsible for launch management.
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