Christopher Hummel

Milton native Christopher Hummel is among hundreds of NASA scientists who worked on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

NASA is inviting the public to attend a virtual launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The first launch opportunity from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida begins at 8:50 a.m. Thursday. Live coverage and countdown commentary will begin at 8 a.m.

Loaded with scientific instruments, advanced computational capabilities for landing, and other new systems, the Perseverance rover is the largest, heaviest, most sophisticated vehicle NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet. The rover was designed to search for astrobiological evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

A 2009 Milton High School graduate, Christopher Hummel is among the hundreds of NASA scientists working on the rover. Hummel studied mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin Madison and completed his master’s degree in 2016. Since then, he has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. Hummel, the son of Leo and Deb Hummel of Milton, was part of the team that developed PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry). The instrument is mounted at the end of the rover’s robotic arm so it can be placed next to a rock or soil target.

PIXL has a tool (an X-ray spectrometer) that identifies chemical elements on a very small scale. PIXL also has a camera that takes close-up pictures of rock and soil textures. It can see features as small as a grain of salt. This information helps scientists look for signs of past microbial life on Mars.

Following a seven-month journey, Perseverance will land at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. There, it will gather rock and soil samples for future return to Earth. It also will characterize the planet’s climate and geology and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. The robotic scientist, which weighs just under 2,300 pounds, also will carry the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, a technology demonstration that marks the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The launch period is approximately three weeks, from July 30 to August 15. The duration of the daily launch window varies from day to day. The launch windows will last approximately two hours, with a unique launch opportunity every five minutes.

The launch progress can be followed at Mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.

If the Rover cannot launch by Aug. 15, its next scheduled launch would be in 2022. That’s when Earth and Mars will again be aligned at a closer distance.

The public can register to stay up to date on mission information, mission highlights, and interaction opportunities. Visit https://www.nasa.gov/beourguest.

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