Here are the three missions to Mars that are happening this month
TORONTO -- While this summer may be a more subdued one for Earthlings, it’ll be a different story elsewhere in our solar system.
The population of Mars is on the verge of tripling as three new Mars missions from three different countries are set to launch within the next month, with two new rovers coming to the planet.
Curiosity is about to get some company.
Although Mars has been an object of fascination for years for humans millions of kilometres away on Earth, it is still a planet of vast mystery, and has been only marginally explored.
The Curiosity Rover, a NASA project, has called Mars home since 2012. Over the last few months, scientists have been commanding Curiosity from the comfort of their sofas at home instead of their offices at NASA.
The rover has been alone on the planet ever since Opportunity — which was sent to Mars with the Spirit rover in 2003 — stopped responding in 2018 following a massive dust storm that swept over the rover’s location on Mars. Opportunity’s mission was officially deemed complete in 2019 after months of NASA attempting to reconnect and revive the rover.
On July 30, NASA is sending Curiosity a new friend: their fifth Mars rover since the start of the program, called Perseverance.
Perseverance’s main mission is to look for signs of past life on Mars by studying the geology and taking rock and soil samples to be analyzed on Earth later. Previous explorations — including work done by Opportunity — have shown evidence that there was once water on Mars’ surface.
As water is one of the main building blocks of life as we know it, further evidence that Mars didn’t always used to be a dry, rocky wasteland could open up our understanding of how life could exist outside of our planet.
NASA has been sending rockets and landing craft to Mars for decades. But America’s martian monopoly is being challenged by China and the United Arab Emirates this summer, with both aiming to join the outer space elite.
Like the Americans, China is landing a rover on Mars this summer, called Tianwen-1, according to a press release from the China National Space Administration.
Although not many details of the mission have been released, the rover is set to launch sometime in July, and is China’s first Mars exploration mission.
The United Arab Emirates are not landing a rover on the planet, but are instead launching a mission to orbit Mars and observe from space.
The Hope Probe will circle the planet for two years studying weather and atmosphere, and will be the first of the three missions to launch this summer: a countdown on the UAE Space Agency website shows that the mission is launching next week, on July 15.
The mission is aiming to understand the climate dynamics of Mars, the structure of Mars’ atmosphere and why hydrogen and oxygen are escaping from the upper atmosphere into space.
So why are so many missions to Mars launching in the same month?
Because there is a unique window of opportunity right now. This is when Earth and Mars are closest together — something that only happens every two years.
Although these three missions are being operated by different countries, and have different goals, they all serve as important stepping stones towards the ultimate quest: achieving a human expedition to Mars by the end of the century.