NASA rover Perseverance set to launch for Mars, searching for signs of life

An artist rendering of Perseverance collecting samples from Mars.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The NASA rover Perseverance is scheduled to launch on Thursday, bound for Mars and equipped to explore an area where scientists hope it will find signs of ancient life.

The plan is for the $2.7 billion rover to land on the Red Planet around Feb. 18. It will collect soil and rock samples, which will be placed into tubes that are picked up by another rover in 2026 and transferred to an orbiting spacecraft set to arrive back on Earth in 2031. Scientists will then study the samples to see if there is a common origin between life on Earth and life on ancient Mars, if there was any.

Perseverance will be programmed to land in Jezero Crater, where there was once a river delta that flowed into a lake, The Washington Post reports. Scientists chose that spot because Mars does not have plate tectonics, meaning the surface hasn't changed much over the last four billion years, and they believe this area could have plenty of rocks that hold signs of ancient life.

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"If we could bring back a fossil record, a rock record, some kind of geological samples, that have some record of that prebiotic phase of the evolution of life, that would arguably be as exciting, or arguably more exciting, than finding life," Benjamin Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Perseverance science team, told the Post.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.