NASA gave the technical green light to the six-wheel rover launch on Thursday Perseverance to Mars, where the robot will search for traces of ancient microbes that may have populated the planet more than three billion years ago. It will land on February 18, 2021.

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“We are indeed ready for the launch,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference, proud of having kept to the schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic. “We persevered, we protected this mission, because it is very important”.

The launch will take place at 7:50 a.m. Thursday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, using an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance.

“I never thought that a launch director could work from home, but that’s what I’ve been doing for the past five months,” said Omar Baetz, head of launch at the agency, amused. American space.

Previous rovers of the United States have shown that the red planet had been “habitable”, that is to say that the conditions that are thought to be favorable to the appearance of life (carbon, water, favorable climate) were present.

But we still do not know if it has been inhabited, and this mission, decided in 2012 and called “March 2020”, will attempt to answer the question.

“This is the first time in history that NASA has devoted a mission to what is called astrobiology: the search for life, perhaps current, or old life in another world,” a Jim Bridenstine said.

Perseverance, improved version of the robot Curiosity which has been traveling on Mars since 2012, will carry out analyzes of Martian rocks thanks to its onboard instruments designed in particular by researchers in France and Spain, but above all it will take rock samples, which it will leave on the surface in tubes sealed to be recovered by a future mission, and brought back to Earth in 2031.

Only the Americans have so far managed to land intact robots on Mars: four landers (fixed), and four rovers (Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, the only one still alive).

But China will attempt its first landing on Mars next year: its Tianwen-1 mission was launched last week, with the landing of a four-wheeled robot scheduled for May 2021.