It will be a different story elsewhere in our solar system as this summer may be a more subdued one for Earthlings. While three new Mars missions from three different countries are set to be launched in the next month, the population of Mars is on the verge of tripling. It is still a planet of vast mystery and has been only marginally explored. However, Mars has been an object of fascination for years for humans millions of kilometers away on Earth.
Since 2012, a NASA project, The Curiosity Rover, has known Mars to be home. Scientists have been commanding Curiosity from their sofas at home instead of their offices at NASA over the last few months. Ever since Opportunity, which was sent to Mars with the Spirit rover in 2003, the rover has been alone on the planet. It stopped responding in 2018 after a massive dust storm that swept over the rover’s location on Mars. After months of NASA attempting to reconnect and revive the rover, the opportunity’s mission was officially deemed complete in 2019.
NASA is sending Curiosity a new friend called Perseverance, on July 30. Looking for signs of past life on Mars is Perseverance’s primary mission. This is done by studying geology and taking rock and soil samples to be analyzed on Earth later. Earlier surveys have revealed that there was once water on Mars’ surface. Further evidence shows that Mars was not always dry, as water is one of the main building blocks of life as we know it.
China and the United Arab Emirates are challenging America’s martian monopoly this summer, by aiming to join the outer space elite. According to a press release from the China National Space Administration, China is landing a rover on Mars this summer, known as Tianwen-1. This is China’s first Mars exploration mission. The United Arab Emirates is launching a mission to orbit Mars and observe from space. A countdown on the UAE Space Agency website shows that the mission is launching next week the Hope Probe, which will circle the planet for two years studying weather and atmosphere.
They want to understand the structure of Mars’ atmosphere, why hydrogen and oxygen are escaping from the upper atmosphere into space, and the climate dynamics of Mars. A unique window of opportunity right now is the reason why there are so many missions to Mars launching in the same month. This is when Earth and Mars are closest together, which only happens every two years. The three missions have different goals but serve as valuable stepping stones towards the ultimate quest:
achieving a human expedition to Mars by the end of the century.