Mars:Three robotic spacecraft arriving in quick succession
An orbiter and lander launched by China is today set to be the second of three space missions to reach Mars this month.
The United Arab Emirates’ orbiter reaches Mars on Tuesday, followed less than 24 hours later by China’s orbiter-rover combo. NASA’s rover, the cosmic caboose, will arrive on the scene a week later, on February 18, to collect rocks for return to Earth.
The three missions launched in July 2020 form a wave of unmanned spacecraft from the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates to see if Mars was ever habitable, and to find out if it could be again.
China’s duo — called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth” — will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover separates to descend to the dusty, ruddy surface. If all goes well, it will be only the second country to land successfully on the red planet.
Scientists believe Mars was once abundant with water, and very possibly life. The UAE Space Agency said: “One of the culprits of the transformation of this planet into a dry, dusty one is climate change and atmospheric loss.”
The coronavirus pandemic has complicated each step of each spacecraft’s 480 million-kilometre journey to Mars. It even kept the European and Russian space agencies’ joint Mars mission grounded until the next launch window in 2022.
Perseverance’s deputy project manager Matt Wallace, who’s working his fifth Mars rover mission, said the pandemic won’t dampen the mood come landing day. ‘I don’t think COVID’s going to be able to stop us from jumping up and down, and fist-bumping,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of happy people no matter what, once we get this thing on the surface safely.’