Despite the pandemic, economic recession, and social upheaval in the US and around the world... this is an exciting summer for space exploration. This month represents an ideal window for launching missions to Mars, and for years many of Earth’s space agencies have been preparing for this opportunity.
On July 19, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched the Hope Mars orbiter on a Japanese rocket, becoming the first Arab country to launch an interplanetary mission. Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US remarked that “A young Emirati who is … watching for the first time, [an Arab-built] spaceship carrying a probe to Mars, they're going to grow up believing everything is possible, or they're going to grow up believing that there is indeed hope.” He also emphasized the need for the nations of Earth to work together using science and technology to solve problems facing the whole globe, from coronavirus to climate change.
Then on July 23, China launched the Tianwen-1, an particularly ambitious first mission to Mars, including an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.
"Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter," team members wrote in a recent Nature Astronomy paper outlining the mission's main objectives. "No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough." "Specifically, the scientific objectives of Tianwen-1 include: (1) to map the morphology and geological structure, (2) to investigate the surface soil characteristics and water-ice distribution, (3) to analyze the surface material composition, (4) to measure the ionosphere and the characteristics of the Martian climate and environment at the surface, and (5) to perceive the physical fields (electromagnetic, gravitational) and internal structure of Mars," mission team members wrote in the Nature Astronomy paper.
Now on July 30, NASA and the ESA plan to launch the Perseverance Rover. You can view the countdown and learn more about the mission at mars.nasa.gov/mars2020. In addition to seeking signs of ancient life and collecting soil samples for return to Earth, Perseverance is also carrying a new technology demonstration - the Ingenuity, a helicopter designed to operate on Mars. Like the other launches this month, the Perseverance is expected to arrive at Mars and begin its mission in February.
Of course, back on May 30, NASA and Space X launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station onboard the Crew Dragon, the first new manned spacecraft launched from the United States since the Space Shuttle in 1981. Bob and Doug have been in orbit on the ISS throughout June and July, and are scheduled to remain there until August 2.
For today’s young students, including ARES Cadets, this is an exciting time to learn about these ongoing missions, imagine where the coming decades will take us, and prepare to be involved.