CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — United Launch Alliance is targeting 7:50 am this morning to launch an Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover aboard. There is a 2-hour window for today’s launch. The action will all take place at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The rover will explore the Jezero Crater to study the planet’s habitability, seek signs of past microbial life, collect and store samples of selected rock and soil and prepare for future human missions.

The rover also carries the “drone-like’ Ingenuity helicopter, a technology demonstration to prove that powered flight can be achieved at Mars.

“This is a critical step on our way to sending humans to Mars,” Zena Cardman, one of NASA’s newest astronauts, told “We want to make sure we get it right, and it’s easier to do with robots before lives are at stake.”

“This is an exciting time and a crucial piece of technology,” she added.

The mars journey will take about 6.5 months and will end with a landing that NASA officials have called  “7 minutes of terror.” Perseverance will have to deal with that terror by itself: Once the command to begin the landing sequence is initiated, the rover is on its own.

The Perseverance rover will run on the same power system that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover relies on — a plutonium-powered device known as a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. The generator takes heat from nuclear decay and converts it into electrical energy.