Watch: NASA Perseverance Rover Blasts Off to Mars in Search of Alien Life

Alan Boyle, GeekWire

GeekWire contributing editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of NBCNews.com, he is the author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference." Follow him via CosmicLog.com, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and MeWe.

Watch: NASA Perseverance Rover Blasts Off to Mars in Search of Alien Life

With the fiery flash of a rocket launch, NASA's Perseverance rover headed out today for what's expected to be a decade-long campaign to store up and bring back Martian samples that may hold evidence of alien life.

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. ET (4:50 a.m. PT), sending the rover into space for a seven-month cruise to Mars.


Access to the area surrounding the launch pad was restricted due to the pandemic, but hundreds of thousands of people watched the liftoff via streaming video. And as if the pandemic wasn't enough of a challenge, in the minutes before launch, a magnitude-4.2 earthquake rattled through NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover mission is managed.

Mission managers said the complications had no effect on the countdown.

"This is all about perseverance," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the buildup to liftoff. "Going to Mars is all about persevering in general. Doing it now is more persevering than ever before."

An hour after launch, Perseverance's spacecraft separated from the Atlas 5's Centaur upper stage and flew outward to the Red Planet. NASA said the signal from the spacecraft was initially "too loud for the antennas on Earth." But in the midst of a post-launch news briefing, deputy project manager Matt Wallace reported that the operations team was eventually able to lock onto the signal properly.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said such adjustments came with the territory. "You want to be a rocket scientist, this is what you do. … You have to have a little bit of nerves if you're in this business," he said.

Adam Steltzner, the mission's chief engineer at JPL, said he expected in-space operations to settle into a routine. "I'm looking forward to, ideally, a very quiet and boring cruise to Mars, as we prepare for the never-boring and always stressful entry, descent and landing on the 18th of February," he said on NASA TV.

Mars 2020 launch www.youtube.com

Like its older cousin, NASA's Curiosity rover, Perseverance will land with the aid of parachutes and a retrorocket-equipped descent stage. A "Sky Crane" will lower the 1-ton rover to the surface of Jezero Crater, and then the descent stage will blast itself away from the landing site.

The six-wheeled, nuclear-powered robot is designed for a primary mission lasting at least one Martian year, which is the equivalent of nearly two Earth years. But if Perseverance follows Curiosity's example, it could be on the job for far longer.

Perseverance bears a strong resemblance to Curiosity, in that they're built on the same basic chassis with a similar-looking camera mast and robotic arm. NASA and its collaborators have added some new twists, however.

A mini-helicopter called Ingenuity is tucked under Perseverance's belly and will be deployed for unprecedented test flights after the landing. Another experiment called MOXIE will test a technique for turning the carbon dioxide in Mars' thin atmosphere to oxygen. That trick will come in handy if and when NASA sends astronauts on extended trips to Mars as is planned in the 2030s.

The biggest difference between Curiosity and Perseverance is that the new rover's scientific instruments are fine-tuned to look for signs of life on the microscopic scale.

A laser-equipped camera system called SuperCam can detect organic compounds in rocks and soils from a distance of more than 20 feet. Two close-up imaging systems, SHERLOC and PIXL, can theoretically make out the structural and chemical signs of fossilized microbes. And a radar imager called RIMFAX can map subsurface structure at a resolution of inches, to depths as deep as 30 feet.

Mission Overview: NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover www.youtube.com

The target landing site in Jezero Crater is thought to have been a river delta in ancient times, and it was chosen in hopes that the minerals in Martian rock would preserve fossils — or at least the chemical evidence of biological processes.

It's unlikely that Perseverance will find indisputable evidence of life on Mars. Debates about Martian life detection tend to end inconclusively, whether we're talking about the Viking lander missions of the 1970s or suggestions of "nanofossils" in Martian meteorites that fell to Earth. But this mission has a long-term strategy for settling such debates.

Perseverance is designed to drill out and save dozens of promising core samples for later pickup. The current plan, which is still under development by NASA and the European Space Agency, calls for sending out a NASA lander and a European-built rover in 2026. That rover would fetch the samples and put them into a capsule, which would in turn be loaded onto a mini-rocket and launched into Martian orbit.

"It's kind of an interplanetary relay race we're doing," David Parker, ESA's director of human and robotic spaceflight, explained during a pre-launch briefing.

Yet another spacecraft would take a trip to Martian orbit, capture the capsule and bring the samples back to Earth for study in 2031. That would mark the first opportunity to examine fresh samples from Mars with the best instruments that scientists have at their disposal — and the best opportunity to answer the age-old question about life on Mars..

"I do believe that the ultimate proof and the ultimate analyses that are really critical to that question, at the level of standard that we need to answer this, will come from laboratory analysis on Earth," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "So I believe this will be a process that will extend over 10 years or so, where evidence is mounting from remote sensing and in-situ measurements up there, but then really culminating in bringing these samples back."

More morsels about the Mars mission:

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Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki on How Tech Is Changing Health Care

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Maureen Klewicki
Image courtesy of Maureen Klewicki

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki talks about price transparency for health care, the labor shortage crisis and emerging models of health care.

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5 Things To Know About Amazon’s First Style Store

Drew Grant

Drew Grant is dot.LA's Senior Editor. She's a media veteran with over 15-plus years covering entertainment and local journalism. During her tenure at The New York Observer, she founded one of their most popular verticals, tvDownload, and transitioned from generalist to Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture, overseeing a freelance contributor network and ushering in the paper's redesign. More recently, she was Senior Editor of Special Projects at Collider, a writer for RottenTomatoes streaming series on Peacock and a consulting editor at RealClearLife, Ranker and GritDaily. You can find her across all social media platforms as @Videodrew and send tips to drew@dot.la.

Amazon Style Glendale
Image by Joshua Letona

Starting today, Glendale’s most meme-able outdoor mall, The Americana at Brand, will be home to the Amazon Style store—the ecommerce giant’s first foray into brick-and-mortar apparel retail. We got an early sneak peak inside the new digs (located on the corner with Sprinkles Cupcakes, next to H&M and the Apple store) and were able to try out some of its tech-enabled features, which—as ever with Amazon—seek to make the act of shopping as easy as possible.

1. It’s Bigger Than It Looks—Even From the Inside

The floor is massive—laying out original products from Amazon’s own apparel lines alongside name brands like Theory, Adidas and Calvin Klein, as well as several other lines that have up until now only existed online. But the actual store is much larger than the two floors that most customers will only ever see.

Amazon Style is just the front—the homepage, if you will—behind which a large warehouse facility keeps a gigantic surplus of inventory. A floor-to-ceiling glass window on the main floor gives shoppers just a peak behind the scenes, as employees help load industrial-sized elevators with racks of goods to send upstairs to the dressing rooms.

2. Online Shopping IRL

When perusing the store’s bouquet of cottagecore maxi dresses, Kendall & Kylie blazers and, yes, a whole section dedicated to Y2K apparel, one doesn’t just pick an item off the rack and take it with you while you shop. Instead, each rack has a barcode that you can scan via the Amazon Shopping app, which has your sizes pre-loaded from previous purchases. (Though you can, of course, opt for a different size if you choose.) That cues an AI-enabled algorithm to start searching through the store’s warehoused catalog and zip the desired item over to the second floor, where the dressing room provides its own glimpse into the future of shopping.

The store also boasts a version of The Drop, a Style staple that allows online customers to shop an entire influencer-curated collections for a 30-hour flash window.

3. Changing Stations of the Future—Today

Your phone also acts as your keycard to get into your personal dressing room. To prevent waiting, you are put in a virtual cue the moment you scan your first item; should your screen prompt that your room is ready while you’re still shopping, a press of a button allows you to hold your spot in the queue while freeing up the room for someone else. (I have no idea how any of this works if your phone dies; ostensibly it can’t, and you will be forced to go home empty-handed—or worse, to The Cheesecake Factory while your device charges.)

Amazon Style’s dressing rooms offer a tech-enabled twist to trying on clothes.Image by Joshua Letona

The changing room is like its own parlor trick. Designed to look like a walk-in closet, one wall has a full length mirror and a giant touchscreen while another has all the clothes you scanned in your style and size preference. Expect to see a few surprises in there, as the algorithm picks out other stuff you might want to try on based on your picks. It would be spooky if it wasn’t so convenient—an IRL mashup of the online retailer’s “Recommended Based on Your Purchases” and “Frequently Bought Together” features.

If an item doesn’t fit quite right or you want to see how a skirt looks in blue instead of black, just tap the touchscreen to request a variant. Or an entirely new outfit, as the screen makes available everything in the facility. Then just bring it down to checkout...perhaps the wildest part of this ride.

4. Palming the Bucks

Checking out of Amazon Style’s flagship store is what really blew my mind—although apparently it’s because I haven’t been to one of the Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods locations where cashless checkouts have been an option in select locations since 2020

I assumed you would just walk out the door with it, because I watch Saturday Night Live sketches for news. While the Go payment option isn't available at Amazon Style, there are several checkout options to keep the experience as frictionless and non-cumbersome as possible.

In one scenario, you take the clothes you want out of the dressing room, and go directly to Amazon’s palm-enabled checkout kiosks. That’s right: register on the spot for an Amazon One account, and you need merely to wave your hand over a little black device that reads your palm and charges your on-file payment method. Super convienent for everyone except $10 boardwalk psychics, who are about to be put out of business.

For the more traditional set, you still have the option of paying via credit card or cash.

Shoppers can check out of Amazon Style with the wave of a palm. Image by Joshua Letona

5. Supply & Demand & Return

Amazon Style’s brick-and-mortar location opens up a variety of new ways to shop, return and exchange clothing. For instance, you can order a load of clothes online and pick them up in the store; anything you don’t want can be returned in the store without you ever having to print a shipping label.

See something you like but don’t have time to try it on? Just scan the barcode, pick it up at the front of the store and pay on your way out without ever going into a dressing room.

The Amazon Shopping app also boasts a Deals feature, which automatically sorts for the best price on items to help customers either save money (or believe they are).

While Glendale is home to the only Style store so far, Amazon isn’t ruling out more locations. With fewer retailers able to afford rents on America’s main strips and shopping malls, Amazon’s resources—and its unique position at the intersection of tech and retail—make it easy to envision more Style stores on the horizon.

A Look Inside Amazon's New Retail Store in Glendale

Image by Joshua Letona

Gaming Will Keep Growing Despite Economic Woes, Netflix Exec Says

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Gaming Will Keep Growing Despite Economic Woes, Netflix Exec Says
Photo courtesy of Netflix

The economic headwinds that are hurting tech companies these days won’t halt gaming’s growing popularity, according to Netflix Vice President of Games Mike Verdu.

During a panel discussion Tuesday at the Montgomery Summit conference in Santa Monica, Verdu said the roughly 3 billion people who currently play video games will continue to grow in number. He agreed that gaming can even be countercyclical—meaning that the industry can sometimes do better during tough economic conditions. And he predicted that the industry will continue to see more consolidation as tech and media giants, including Netflix, gobble up game developers.

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