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NASA pushes back Mars 2020 launch date

Published Jun 12th, 2020 4:36PM EDT
perseverance mission

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  • NASA has been forced to delay the launch of its Mars Perseverance rover mission, but only by a few days.
  • The agency, which promised the novel coronavirus pandemic wouldn’t impact the Mars 2020 mission, says it has to perform some repairs on the rover’s ground system equipment. 
  • The mission is now scheduled to launch on July 20th instead of July 17th.

Just like every other organization on the planet, NASA has been dramatically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The agency was forced to send staffers home, and even those working remotely to send commands to NASA’s machines on Mars had to do so from their home offices.

Despite all that, one thing that was never in danger of being canceled was the launch of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover. It’s an incredibly important mission for NASA, and the agency ensured that mission-critical staff members had the ability to continue their work. Now, in a bit of news that might initially seem worrisome, NASA is pushing back the launch date of the mission from July 17th to July 20th, but NASA has a good explanation.

According to NASA, the reason for the delay is simple: Something broke. Yep, that’s pretty much the extent of the details the agency offered in a brief statement announcing the launch delay.

Here’s the full statement:

NASA and ULA are now targeting Monday, July 20, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission of the Perseverance Rover on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Additional time was needed for the team to repair an issue with the ground system equipment. Launch is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. ET with a two-hour window.

Well okay then!

Launching a spacecraft to Mars is a whole lot different than launching a satellite into orbit or even sending a rover to the Moon. Timing is everything and since Earth and Mars orbit the Sun at different rates, the opportunity to send a mission to Mars only happens every couple of years or so.

Earlier this year, the European Space Agency was forced to delay the launch of its planned ExoMars mission. Citing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, the ESA announced it decided to call off a 2020 launch and instead plan for the mission to begin in 2022. That’s a long time to wait, but that’s just the nature of things when it comes to Mars.

The good news here is that NASA still seems supremely confident that the Perseverance rover will leave Earth in July. The trip will take many months, and the mission won’t arrive at the Red Planet until early 2021. Assuming all goes well, we can expect to hear news about discoveries in the weeks and months that follow the landing.