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Stony Brook Professor Among Scientists Who Designed Critical Instrument On NASA's Mars Rover 'Perseverance'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - NASA launched a new mission Thursday to determine if life ever existed on Mars.

A local professor is among the scientists who helped make it happen, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported.

The Perseverance rover blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, starting its seven-month journey to Mars.

"I woke up at 7 o'clock in the morning with my wife and my two kids," said Joel Hurowitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University. "... we ran downstairs and it almost had a Christmas morning kind of feel to it."

Hurowitz said he was glued to NASA's YouTube channel.

He's one of the scientists who developed an instrument mounted on the end of the rover's arm that will survey rocks on the Red Planet to determine what they're made of.

"We've always wondered are we alone in the universe? Is the Earth a singularity in terms of life ever having started on this planet?" said Hurowitz.

If successful, the mission will determine if life ever existed on Mars and, if so, what stopped its evolution.

The rover is as big as a car. Mounted cameras will help study the planet's climate. A first of its kind Mars helicopter will capture aerial views of the planet's surface. A drill can help collect samples of martian rocks for further study.

"The feeling of, waking up everyday and just getting these beautiful pictures and going, 'What's new on Mars today, what did we find?' It's super cool," said Hurowitz.

Preparations for Perseverance were years in the making. Most of the work was done before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

"As most of you know, if you miss this window, you gotta wait a couple years. And so, it was critically important for us to hit this," said Matt Wallace, the deputy project manager at NASA.

The Perseverance rover is expected to land on Mars in February 2021. It's designed to be able to roam the planet and collect information for years.

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