NASA launched its Perseverance mobile robot to Mars on Thursday, designed to discover traces of ancient life on the red planet.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifted off as scheduled at 07:50 (11:50 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in clear skies, for a journey of nearly 7 months and 480 million kilometers.
The first stage of the rocket detached a few minutes later. NASA is now preparing for a second push, from Earth orbit, that will propel Perseverance on its course towards March.
“It’s really fantastic to be gone after all the hard work of this team,” NASA executive Bobby Braun said shortly after the launch.
If arrived intact, on February 18, 2021, Perseverance will be only the fifth rover to make the trip since 1997.
All so far are Americans, but China launched its first Martian rover last week, due to arrive in May 2021.
Mars could, therefore, have three rovers in operation next year, with American Curiosity, which has covered 23 km on the Red Planet since 2012.
The main mission of Perseverance will be to search for traces of past life on Mars.
Scientists believe they have good evidence that over three billion years ago the planet was warmer and covered in rivers and lakes, ingredients that can breed germs.