Three countries last month launched separate missions to our closest planetary neighbor. The July blastoffs put the spacecraft on a trajectory to reach Mars on its closest approach to Earth, which only happens once every 26 months. Each mission will cover about 300 million miles on its seven-month trip.
The United Arab Emirates on July 19 launched the Hope satellite from Japan. The UAE formed a partnership with the University of Colorado–Boulder; the University of California, Berkley; and Arizona State University for the project. The satellite will orbit Mars and collect data on the red planet’s weather patterns. Scientists hope it can shed light on why oxygen and hydrogen leached out of the Martian atmosphere long ago, Live Science reported.
China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a golf cart–sized rover, took off on July 23.
A week later, NASA launched the massive Perseverance rover, scheduled to land in Mars’ Jezero crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The six-wheeled robot will search for signs of ancient life in the rocks of the 28-mile-wide crater, which scientists believe once contained a lake and river delta. NASA hopes to send another mission to Mars in 2026 to pick up soil samples from Perseverance and bring them to Earth by 2031 at the earliest.
An experimental helicopter, the Ingenuity, hitched a ride on the NASA mission, as well. If Ingenuity can successfully negotiate the thin Martian atmosphere, minus-130 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, and frequent communication delays, it could pave the way for future robotic helicopters to provide high-definition images from a new perspective. It also could enable access to terrain too difficult for rovers to reach.
“We’ll be learning all along the way, and it will be the ultimate reward for our team to be able to add another dimension to the way we explore other worlds in the future,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. —J.B.