July 27 (UPI) -- Excitement is growing at NASA over the planned Mars 2020 mission liftoff from Florida on Thursday with an improved forecast for weather conditions.
Officials with NASA and the rocket contractor, United Launch Alliance, completed a launch readiness review Monday and declared the mission a "go" for as early as 7:30 a.m.
"These are very, very exciting times," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a news conference at Kennedy Space Center after a formal launch review. "It's a very important mission for the United States of America."
In addition to continuing a search for life, Mars 2020 will mark several firsts, NASA officials said. It will be the first mission designed to capture rock samples from another planet for an eventual return to Earth.
And it will be the first time that cameras and microphones record sights and sounds of a spacecraft landing on another planet.
Another instrument on the Perseverance rover will study how to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is mostly carbon dioxide. Oxygen production on Mars could enable Martian outposts to be built someday.
Bridenstine called the mission a "precursor to an eventual human mission to Mars."
Just a 20 percent chance of bad weather could delay the launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday morning, according to the U.S. Space Force forecast. That improves to only 10 percent the next day.
Good launch weather is important because the mission must begin by about Aug. 15 or it will miss the closest approach of Mars to Earth. Another close approach won't occur for about two years.
The rocket for the launch, an Atlas V, is among the most powerful United Launch Alliance company makes, CEO Tory Bruno said.
"This rocket is going to leap off the pad with this relatively tiny payload. Do not blink," Bruno said.