The launch of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, the life-hunting, sample-caching Red Planet explorer, is just a month away. The car-size robot is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during a window that runs from July 20 through Aug. 11.
Getting to this point has not been easy. Mission teams have had to prep the rover and rocket for liftoff while the coronavirus pandemic swirled around them, forcing the closure of many NASA facilities. But the space agency prioritized getting Perseverance to the pad on time (while protecting workers’ safety as well), given that Mars-mission launch windows open just once every 26 months.
Perseverance is scheduled to lift off on July 20. Whenever the six-wheeled rover lifts off during the coming window, it will land on Feb. 18, 2021, inside the Red Planet’s 28-mile-wide (45 kilometres) Jezero Crater. Jezero harboured a lake and river delta billions of years ago, and Perseverance will use its seven science instruments to characterize that potentially habitable ancient environment and look for evidence of long-dead Mars life, among other things.
Perseverance will also test out tech for future exploration efforts. For example, one of the rover’s instruments will generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is thin and dominated by carbon dioxide. Such tech could help human pioneers live and work on the Red Planet someday, NASA officials have said.
The Mars 2020 mission also features a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity, which will travel to the Red Planet on Perseverance’s belly. Ingenuity will make a few short test flights in the Martian sky, potentially paving the way for future rotorcraft that could serve as rover scouts and/or gather lots of data on their own.
The nuclear-powered Perseverance is also outfitted with 23 cameras and two microphones. If all goes according to plan, the mission will capture high-definition video of Perseverance’s dramatic sky-crane landing and record the sounds of the Martian surface. Both types of data collection would be unprecedented.
“Perseverance is the most sophisticated mission we’ve ever sent to the Red Planet’s surface,” said Lori Glaze, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
Two other NASA robots are active on the Martian surface at the moment: the InSight Mars lander, which has been monitoring marsquakes since its November 2018 touchdown, and the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater since August 2012.
This article originally appeared on Space.com