If NASA realizes its midsummer dream, a spacecraft will blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, sometime between 30 July and 15 August, destined to ignite the next generation of Mars exploration. The mission aims to deliver the space agency’s latest rover, Perseverance, to an uncharted crater known as Jezero—an ancient lake bed that could offer a window into Mars’s climatic history.
Perseverance will carry many tools and instruments, including a small helicopter and a novel array of 43 sample tubes, robotic arms, and multiple drills, which will bore into the martian surface for chalk-size cores of rock and soil. The cores will eventually make their way back to Earth in a sample return campaign, a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency. Should they contain organic compounds, they may indicate the existence of past microorganisms—in other words, evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.
*Clarification, 2 July, 10:55 a.m.: The mission’s launch window has been updated.