All eyes on Mars


Three rival missions have left Earth to explore Mars. The US, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sent spacecrafts on a new hunt to discover whether life ever existed on Mars.

Why Mars? There is evidence of water in the past, suggesting it could have once supported life.

Why are they leaving at the same time? According to NASA, on October 6, Mars will be within 62 million kilometres of Earth. This is the closest Mars will get to Earth this year. A Mars Close Approach happens about every 26 months. These missions are taking advantage of this proximity so that they will travel 483 million km to Mars in 7 months rather than the usual 9 months.

The first mission to begin its way to Mars was the Hope probe of the UAE.

The Hope orbiter will reach Mars in early 2021, to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, weather and climate from above. To read more about this click here.

The next mission was the Chinese Mission. What do we know about it?

Tianwen-1 mission is also already on its way to Mars. Like the other missions it will take 7 months to get there. It is special because this is the first time a single mission to another planet has carried all three – an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. When the spacecraft gets to the red planet, it will begin to orbit Mars. A few months after that, it will lower a lander down to the martian surface. The wheeled rover will be inside that!

The rover will survey the surface of Mars, including whether there is any water in the soil. It is equipped with a high-resolution camera and a spectrometer to allow scientists to study what the surface rocks are made of.

Tianwen-1 plans to map the Red Planet and learn more about its weather. And it hopes to find any proof that life ever existed on Mars — or if it still does.

China has tried to get to Mars once before in 2011. However, that spacecraft (Yinghuo-1) failed to get there.  If this mission is successful, it would be a major milestone for China. China will become just the third nation, after Russia and the US, to land on Mars.

What do we know about the new US mission to Mars?

The US has sent 4 successful missions with rovers to Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover is still moving across the Martian surface.

Then what is NASA’s Perseverance mission focussed on?

It will try and answer the big question – Was there ever life on the red planet? The spacecraft will take upto 7 months to reach Mars. Once it gets there the spacecraft will descend through temperatures upto 2100C. When it nears the surface it will use the sky-crane method to lower the rover onto the surface. A parachute will dramatically slow the spacecraft, then retro rockets will fire.

It plans to land inside the 45 km wide Mars’ Jezero crater in mid-February 2021. This special spot was chosen as scientists believe it was filled with water more than 3 billion years ago. Water is an important ingredient for life to be present. So scientists believe if there was life, this would be a good spot to look for remnants or evidence of this.

The rover is a robot about the size of a car. It has 6 wheels and a 7-ft long robotic arm. It will search for signs of ancient life in the rocks. It will also try and make oxygen on Mars. This is will be important if we plan to send astronauts in the future. It is also carrying a mini helicopter. They want to see if it will be able to take off in Mars’s think atmosphere.

NASA has an ambitious plan. Between 2021 and 2026, the rover will gather and store samples on Mars.  In 2026, a second mission will fire the samples into orbit around Mars. In 2031 a spacecraft will catch the orbiting samples and carry them back to earth!

Well we can’t wait to hear back from these missions. Stay tuned for more posts!


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