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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Bound for Mars in 2020

A man in a clean suit stands looking at a spacecraft, suspended from the ceiling.

An engineer inspects the completed spacecraft that will carry NASA’s next Mars rover to the Red Planet, prior to a test in the Space Simulator Facility at JPL. Image via NASA JPL/CalTech.

Here’s a May 9, 2019 image of the Mars 2020 spacecraft, now taking shape at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In late April, engineers installed a controller that’ll move and steer the spacecraft. This image shows the complete cruise state, which will power and guide the craft on its seven-month journey to Mars. This mission is headed for a launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020. It’ll land at Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. NASA described this scene this way:

From the top down, and suspended by cables, is the complete cruise stage … Directly below that is the aeroshell (white back shell and barely visible black heat shield), which will protect the vehicle during cruise as well as during its fiery descent into the Martian atmosphere. Not visible (because it’s cocooned inside the aeroshell) is the completed rocket-powered descent stage and the surrogate rover (a stand-in for the real rover, which is undergoing final assembly in JPL’s High Bay 1 cleanroom).

The Mars 2020 spacecraft was tested in the 25-foot-wide, 85-foot-tall (8-meter-by-26-meter) chamber in the same configuration it will be in while flying through interplanetary space. The 2020 rover carries an entirely new suite of instruments, including a sample-caching system that will collect samples of Mars for return to Earth on subsequent missions.

Bottom line: A May 9, 2019 photo of NASA’s Mars 2020 spacecraft in a cleanroom at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Deborah Byrd

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