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NASA Launches New Rover To Mars To Search For Signs Of Ancient Life

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NASA launched its new Mars rover, Perseverance, atop a United Launch Alliance V rocket Thursday from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Perseverance is the largest and most technically complex Mars rover ever built, the Associated Press reported. The car-size rover is plutonium-powered and contains an assortment of cameras, microphones, drills and lasers.

The rover’s mission is to collect rock and soil samples — stored in super-sterilized titanium tubes — for possible return to Earth in order to search for signs of ancient life on Mars, according to NASA. (RELATED: China Launches ‘Gutsy’ Mission To Mars A Week Before Similar US Mission)

The rover is headed for the Jezero Crater on the surface of Mars, which is reported to have rocks potentially bearing the chemical signature of microbes from what was once a lake roughly 3 billion year ago, according to the Associated Press.

Scientists also hope to test oxygen production methods and analyze environmental conditions for potential human travel to Mars, according to the Perseverance mission overview.

NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen called the launch the start of “humanity’s first round trip to another planet” Thursday morning prior to liftoff. “Oh, I loved it, punching a hole in the sky, right? Getting off the cosmic shore of our Earth, wading out there in the cosmic ocean,” he said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said just before liftoff that the rover was named Perseverance because “going to Mars is hard” and NASA is launching the rover with less resources due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported. (RELATED: Trump Authorizes Moon Mining, Media Ignores Awesomeness)

The Mars 2020 mission program cost $2.4 billion to develop and NASA has allocated an additional $300 million for operational costs following the rover’s expected landing on Mars, according to CNBC. The entire mission is expected to continue until 2031 and cost $8 billion.

However, a successful mission could provide scientists with new answers about whether or not Mars had ancient life and could even pave the way for the arrival of astronauts on Mars within a couple of decades, the Associated Press reported.