Speed Reads

Earth to Mars

NASA is going back to Mars with 'explicit mission to find life on another world'

Perseverance and Ingenuity are bringing humans closer to Mars.

The Mars 2020 mission is set to launch the Perseverance rover to the red planet from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday at 7:50 a.m., weather permitting, with a targeted landing in February 2021.

The rover will land in Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient river delta that scientists believe may have collected and preserved potential signs of microbial life. Perseverance will collect soil samples to be returned to Earth, per NASA.

"This is the first time in history where we're going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Perseverance, fit with 23 cameras, was named by essay contest winner Alex Mather, who wrote, "We will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up."

Attached to Perseverance but part of a separate experiment is Ingenuity, a tiny helicopter (weighing less than four pounds) that could have a major influence on future space exploration.

Ingenuity is making history as the "first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet", a demonstration of technology NASA is comparing to the Wright Brothers' flight in 1903. If successful, the technology could assist in future robotic and human missions to Mars.

The helicopter was named by essay contest winner Vaneeza Rupani, who wrote that exploring the Moon and Mars "are not just the product of pure determination; they are a combination of human perseverance and ingenuity."

Watch the launch live below. Taylor Watson