NASA Astronauts to Discuss Upcoming Splashdown in Friday News Conference

NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy are the U.S. members of the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA
NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy are the U.S. members of the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will address their upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon departure and splashdown in a news conference at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 31, from the International Space Station.

Fellow NASA astronaut and current Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy will join the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight crew for the 30-minute news conference, which will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website just two days before Behnken and Hurley are targeted to return to Earth.

Weather permitting, NASA and SpaceX are targeting 2:42 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 2, for the splashdown and conclusion of the Demo-2 test flight mission, which is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, lifted off May 30 on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For more details, read the full media advisory.

This is SpaceX’s final test flight in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, landing, and crew return operations.

Successful Launch Sends Perseverance on Seven-Month Journey to Mars

Mars 2020 Perseverance launch
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket climbs upward after lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Not obstacles, not complexity — not even a worldwide pandemic — could keep NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover from blasting off on its historic mission to the Red Planet.

On Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, Perseverance lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, bound for a Feb. 18, 2021, arrival to Mars, where it will touch down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

“It was an amazing launch; very successful,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during Thursday’s post-launch news conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It went right on time, it is on a trajectory now that has been done with pinpoint accuracy, and it is, in fact, on its way to Mars.”

Perseverance, which will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is carrying seven different scientific instruments. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

Due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, the mission’s launch period would have expired on Aug. 15. That placed increased importance on hitting the window; otherwise, the rover would have needed to be stored for two years, until the next favorable alignment.

“(The ULA and Launch Services team) gave us a perfect launch this morning — right down the middle; couldn’t have aimed us any better,” said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “They really pushed hard to keep us on this limited planetary launch window in 2020.”

With its unique and distinct challenges, COVID-19 certainly threatened that timeline. Wallace admitted there have been “very strenuous moments” in the past few months dealing with the pandemic.

“It really took the entire agency to step up and help us; and they didn’t hesitate,” he said. “The team out there — thousands of people — have really made this a special mission. As people have eluded to, ‘Perseverance’ has become a pretty good name for this mission.”

Launch Director Omar Baez of NASA’s Launch Services Program beamed with pride following his team’s flawless effort.

Derrol Nail, left, NASA Communications, and Moogega Cooper, Planetary Protection engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, provide live coverage during Thursday’s launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

“Fantastic, honored, proud, ecstatic — those are the kind of words I can think of right now,” Baez said. “We hit right at the beginning of the window, and the vehicle performed perfectly. It’s just a proud moment, and I’m glad our program provided what was needed to get this on the way.”

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said before the launch that the rocket would leap off of the pad. On a calm, clear, and beautiful Florida day, that’s exactly what happened.

“We ignited, the Atlas performed nominally throughout the mission, and we ended with just an extraordinarily accurate orbital insertion,” Bruno said.

About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance carries seven different scientific instruments. The rover’s astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

The mission marks the first time in history that samples will be collected to bring back to Earth from another planet. Another first: Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Perseverance will spend at least one Martian year, or approximately two Earth years, exploring the landing site region on the Red Planet. Though the mission has a long way to go, Thursday’s launch sent it off to a terrific start.

“I loved it,” said NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. “It’s like punching a hole in the sky.”

Today’s the Day: Perseverance Being Prepped for Liftoff!

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover aboard sits on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on July 30, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

Good morning, and welcome to today’s live blog coverage of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch! It is a beautiful morning here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We are just over an hour away from today’s scheduled 7:50 a.m. EDT liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. There is a two-hour launch window. Perseverance will blast off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket to embark on its seven-month journey to the Red Planet. NASA’s Launch Services Program, (LSP) based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Weather reports have been positive — the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicted an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch. An updated weather report is expected shortly.

This mission is the culmination of years of dedicated work by thousands of people, including teams from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the spacecraft was designed and built; Kennedy, where it was assembled; ULA, Lockheed Martin, and scientists from around the world. In the U.S., flight hardware was built in 44 states, involving more than 550 cities, towns and communities.

Perseverance, which will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is carrying seven different scientific instruments. The rover’s astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live launch coverage starting at 7 a.m. Stay tuned as the mission eclipses multiple milestones — including stage separation, main engine cutoff, and spacecraft separation — or follow along right here at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020. NASA will broadcast a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2: Teams Focus on Return Plans, Weather

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are “Go” to return to Earth with a splashdown off the Florida coast on Sunday, Aug. 2, aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft. The splashdown will wrap up NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission after about two months at the International Space Station.

NASA and SpaceX officials participate in a briefing following the agency's SpaceX Demo-2 Return Flight Readiness Review. Clockwise from top left are NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; Benji Reed, SpaceX director of crew mission management; Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA's International Space Station Program; and Steve Stich, manager of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.
NASA and SpaceX officials participate in a briefing following the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 Return Flight Readiness Review. Clockwise from top left are NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; Benji Reed, SpaceX director of crew mission management; Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program; and Steve Stich, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams from NASA and SpaceX met today to evaluate the plans and preparations for the return and recovery of the crew and spacecraft.

“The Return Flight Readiness Review is complete, and the teams — the NASA team, the SpaceX team — remain ‘Go’ for return, and we cannot wait to get Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley back to Earth,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a briefing that followed the conclusion of the day’s review.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, for undocking of the Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft from the space station and 2:42 p.m. EDT on Sunday for splashdown, which will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

“We really took the time to review the vehicle on orbit,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s been on orbit about 63 days. The systems on Crew Dragon are doing very well; the spacecraft is very healthy. We went through all the systems, any issues or problems that we saw on orbit in terms of how the vehicle responded to the thermal environment in different parts of space; we reviewed the readiness of the [operations] teams; and also the recovery teams. We came out of the FRR with a ‘Go’ to proceed toward undock, deorbit, and landing.”

An area of disturbed weather in the tropics could potentially organize into a tropical storm in the coming days, and NASA and SpaceX managers are closely watching its development. Teams will continue to evaluate the weather and splashdown criteria at seven potential splashdown sites around the Florida peninsula, including sites in the Gulf of Mexico and along the state’s Atlantic coast.

“Over the next few days, we’ll be carefully looking at the weather and getting ready for the undock and deorbit and landing. We’re going to watch the weather very carefully. We have a series of sites and many days. If we don’t undock on Saturday to come home on Sunday, we would move undocking to Monday,” Stich said, adding that the teams constantly monitor the weather and receive briefings prior to key decision points. “We’ll evaluate the weather each day and see how things unfold.”

The Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying Hurley and Behnken lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30 and arrived at the space station the following day. The Demo-2 test flight is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

“It’s been great to have Bob and Doug on board,” said Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program. “They complemented the crew that came up on Soyuz in April. We were able to complete four EVAs and a tremendous amount of utilization, research, technology development. We worked cargo operations with the Japanese transfer vehicle. We had medical operations. These guys just contributed significantly to the station team, the International Space Station Program, and to NASA in general.”

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

For the moment, though, the teams are maintaining their focus on the successful conclusion of Demo-2 with a safe return and recovery for Behnken, Hurley, and the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I just want to say thank you to NASA, to the nation, to the American public, to all the international partners, and to everybody who’s put all their heart and soul and time into this,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX director of crew mission management. “We’ve got the next big step to go to bring those guys home, and we look forward to making it happen.”

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found in the press kit online and by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

NASA Administrator ‘Exceptionally Excited’ for Mars-Bound Mission

NASA Administrator's briefing for Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, far left, conducts a briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 29, 2020, in advance of the launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover scheduled for July 30. Joining him, from left are Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro, NASA astronaut Zena Cardman, partially hidden, and NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Bursts of Florida afternoon rain showers could not dampen the spirts of NASA leaders on the eve of a much-anticipated mission to Mars.

“I’m exceptionally excited about what we’re about to do because we’re going to launch Mars 2020 with the Perseverance robot,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during Wednesday’s briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center. “But there is so much more going on here. This is the first time in history where we’re going to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars.”

The briefing was held outdoors near the Florida spaceport’s iconic countdown clock. A temporary structure installed on the Press Site lawn shielded participants and limited media from the typical Sunshine State summer downpour.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket on Thursday, July 30, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The two-hour window opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Despite dealing with significant challenges associated with COVID-19, Kennedy (and its surrounding area) is hosting the second major launch in two months. SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on May 30.

“When we started 2020, we knew we were going to have a big year at the spaceport,” Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro said. “And I think the events and the milestones of the next couple days are really going to demonstrate that.”

Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover will search for signs of past microbial life. Perseverance will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, touching down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

Attached to the belly of the rover and weighing less than four pounds is NASA’s Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” Bridenstine said.

The rover will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by future Mars sample return missions. It also will test new technologies to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars.

“In 2026, we’re going to launch a mission from Earth to Mars to go pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth,” Bridenstine said. “For the first time in history, we’re doing a Mars sample return mission.”

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live launch coverage tomorrow morning, starting at 7. Stay tuned as the mission eclipses multiple milestones — including stage separation, main engine cutoff, and spacecraft separation — or follow along at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020. NASA will broadcast a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

NASA, SpaceX “Go” for Astronaut Return, Briefing Today at 3:30 p.m. EDT

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission patchNASA and SpaceX teams remain “Go” for the return of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley from the International Space Station following the Return Flight Readiness Review, with the primary factor being weather.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, for undocking of the Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft from the space station and 2:42 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, for splashdown, which will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

NASA and SpaceX will hold the Return Flight Readiness Review briefing at 3:30 p.m. EDT on NASA TV and the agency’s website from the Johnson Space Center to talk the details of the return of the end-to-end test flight. Participants are:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • Benji Reed, director, crew mission management, SpaceX

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Weather Outlook Remains Positive for Tomorrow Morning’s Liftoff

Students who named Perseverance and Ingenuity
Students Alex Mather, at left, and Vaneeza Rupani, stand near the countdown clock at the News Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 28, 2020. Mather named the Perseverance rover, and Rupani named the Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

With less than 24 hours to go until launch, the weather is doing its part to cooperate.

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is continuing to predict an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for the Thursday, July 30, liftoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Primary weather concerns for launch are cumulus and thick clouds.

Perseverance is scheduled to blast off tomorrow morning from Space Launch Complex 41 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The two-hour window opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, is managing the launch.

Tune in to NASA Television or the agency’s website today at noon to view a briefing with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, live from Kennedy. Follow along at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020 for a recap of this afternoon’s event, as well as a preview of live countdown and launch coverage, starting tomorrow at 7 a.m.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2: Return Flight Readiness Review in Progress

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, are pictured having just entered the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX officials are meeting remotely via teleconference today to review plans and preparations for the return of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft after approximately two months at the International Space Station.

The spacecraft’s splashdown will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.

Today’s Return Flight Readiness Review is led by Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations. Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich and International Space Station Program Manager Joel Montalbano will follow, with several officials from NASA and SpaceX providing input from their organizations. Lueders will conduct a final readiness poll at the conclusion at the review.

A Return Flight Readiness Review briefing will follow on NASA TV and the agency’s website from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Participants are:

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • Benji Reed, director, crew mission management, SpaceX

The test flight also is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Bridenstine Leads Briefing Today on Eve of Perseverance Launch

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at Mars 2020 Perseverance rollout
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine attends the rollout of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, as it rolls along to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 28, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will conduct a briefing today at noon at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in advance of Thursday’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch.

Also participating in the briefing are: NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard, Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro and NASA astronaut Zena Cardman. The event, scheduled for one hour, will be held outdoors, near NASA’s historic countdown clock. It can be viewed on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The rover is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket on Thursday, July 30, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The two-hour window opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Arriving on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance will search for signs of past microbial life and help scientists better understand the geology and climate of Mars. The mission is part of America’s larger Moon to Mars exploration approach that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

Perseverance Remains on Track for Thursday Launch

Mars 2020 Sample Return briefing
Jia-Rui Cook with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory moderates a Mars 2020 Sample Return briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 28, 2020. NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

With two days to go until NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover blasts off on its seven-month journey to the Red Planet, everything is proceeding as planned.

On Tuesday, July 28, the rover made the one-third-mile trek from United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vertical Integration Facility to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Now positioned at the pad, Perseverance is scheduled to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket on Thursday, July 30. The two-hour window opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Launch Services Program, (LSP) based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Weather reports are positive. The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is predicting an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch. The primary weather concerns are cumulus and thick clouds.

Several obstacles — including navigating a worldwide pandemic — have been overcome to keep the mission on schedule.

“COVID has placed a heck of a burden on us to get through this,” Launch Director Omar Baez, LSP, said during Tuesday’s NASA Edge Rollout show. “So it lives up to its name, Perseverance, and we’re living it every day.”

“It has been quite the learning experience for the whole program — and the agency,” Baez continued. “But now, we’re really excited.”

Also Tuesday, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center hosted a pair of live shows highlighting the importance and impact of Perseverance’s mission: a Mars Sample Return briefing and a Mission Technology and Humans to Mars briefing. The rover will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by future Mars sample return missions.

“We’re looking to accomplish one of the most complex things humanity has ever attempted,” Mars Sample Return Program Director Jeff Gramling said. “With the launch of Perseverance will be the first step in a mission to bring back samples from another planet.”

Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover will search for signs of past microbial life and help scientists better understand the geology and climate of Mars. Perseverance will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, touching down on the surface of Jezero Crater. Lessons learned from the mission will pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.