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Earthquake hits Nasa facilities during Mars launch

Nasa’s facilities have been hit by an earthquake in California as it prepares for its mission to Mars.

The earthquake does not appear to have caused any delay to the launch, which is happening on the other coast of the US, in Florida.

But facilities that will be key to the launch, including Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – which is based in California – were affected by the 3.9 magnitude earthquake.

On Nasa’s livestream, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine noted it was lucky that the rocket was not launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is also in California and has seen Nasa launches before.

Nasa can only go to Mars once every 26 months, so missing this launch window would mean a cost of half a billion dollars before it could launch again.

More news can be found on The Independent’s liveblog.

The Nasa mission will send the rover Perseverence to search for traces of potential life.

The car-sized six-wheeled robotic rover, which will launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance, also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and test out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun.

Officials indicated that all systems appeared ready to go ahead of the launch, with weather forecasts from the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron remaining at an 80 percent probability of launch and fueling preparations underway for the rocket.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars. Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harbored life.

Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and the Martian surface billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

One of the most complex manoeuvres in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.

It is the latest launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.

Aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

Additional reporting by agencies

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