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NASA pushes back launch of Perseverance rover… again

Published Jun 25th, 2020 5:37PM EDT
mars 2020 delay
Image: Thomas Lammeyer/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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  • NASA has delayed the launch of its Mars 2020 mission which includes the Perseverance rover until July 22nd.
  • The mission was pushed back due to issues with the ground equipment at Kennedy Space Center, NASA says.
  • The mission could launch as late as mid-August, NASA says, and still be on track for a landing on Mars in early 2021.

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission which includes the launch of the Perseverance rover and experimental Mars helicopter, has been delayed for the second time. Originally slated for launch in mid-July, the space agency pushed the date back to July 20th due to issues not related to the rover or spacecraft itself. Now, as we creep closer to the deadline, NASA has been forced to push the launch back to July 22nd.

The good news is that this delay also has nothing to do with the rover or the spacecraft. Yet again, the delay has been blamed on ground equipment at Kennedy Space Center where the mission will be launched.

As Spaceflight Now reports, NASA issued a very brief and somewhat vague statement on the delay on Wednesday, stating that “Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.”

Fair enough. Launching a spacecraft is no easy feat, and launching one that is designed to land on and explore another world is many times more complicated. Ensuring that everything goes smoothly is of utmost importance since any serious fault would not only risk the mission’s scientific objectives but also put the incredible monetary investment of the mission in limbo.

As far as “contamination concerns” go, NASA ensures that nothing it sends to other planets could dramatically alter those worlds. That means building all of the hardware in clean rooms where engineers wear full-body coverings and maintain sterility across all tools, surfaces, and instruments.

If NASA didn’t take these precautions and allowed engineers to work on the rover and other components in regular clothing in a warehouse, they’d run the risk of sending microorganisms like bacteria and viruses to Mars. That’s bad for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that if scientists truly want to find life on another world, they want to make sure that they don’t accidentally re-discover life that they accidentally sent there. It would sort of defeat the purpose.

Whatever the case, NASA still has a nice long window with which to launch its Mars mission despite this new delay. The space agency said that it could potentially launch a mission to Mars as late as mid-August, which is generally considered to be the very outer edge of the launch window for Mars missions from Earth.

The European Space Agency was forced to delay the launch of its own 2020 Mars mission earlier this year, and because the two planets won’t be in the correct alignment until 2022, they’ll be waiting years before they have the chance to send their spacecraft skyward. Let’s hope NASA’s mission doesn’t suffer the same fate.