One of the most important modern chapters in the history of human-kind is about to be written - and we all get to see it happen! The UNITED STATES, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES and CHINA have separately launched interplanetary missions from EARTH to MARS. For each one this journey covers around 300 million miles of combined travel and after a trip of about 200 days each they are all set to arrive at the red planet in February of 2021.
While the USA racks up martian frequent flyer miles, this will be the UAE and China’s first time getting a close-up look at the red planet.
Broadly, these endeavors are a series of firsts including the UAE’s Hope probe that will study weather cycles and answer questions about drastic climate change. China’s ambitious Tianwen-1 orbiter and lander with attached rover that will study the planets composition and the USA is landing the Perseverance rover that will probe for ancient life and launch the Ingenuity helicopter for the maiden drone flight in the thin martian atmosphere.
These unbelievable advancements of technology are absolutely amazing and cause for tremendous celebration. There are very small windows of opportunity where Earth and Mars are on the same side of the sun making their proximity close enough to make this journey even possible. This window occurs every 26 months and closes rapidly, so a failure to launch in that timeframe sets a mission back at least 2 years.
With a trio of countries all making the interplanetary journey this year -- It’s a HISTORIC feat for all human-kind. 2021 will be the year of new discoveries on Mars! Ultimately this is a story of hope, optimism and a vision for the future. Including the BIGGEST question on everyone’s mind - will this take us one giant leap closer to sending a human to Mars? The answer, is YES!
This is the moment science fiction becomes reality right before our eyes.
Since 1960 year there have been a total of 49 interplanetary missions from Earth to Mars. The first successful attempt to reach the red planet was the USA launch of Mariner 4 that made its closest approach on July 15, 1965 and sent 21 photos of the red planet back to Earth.
With the early efforts dominated by the USA and the Soviet Union many countries have joined in putting forth their own missions CHINA, UAE, INDIA, EU, RUSSIA and JAPAN are all major players - and we love it!
From the missions that have been sent so far much has been learned including that Mars has the right chemistry to support living microbes. But we have only just begun to try and solve the mysteries that lie in the martian atmosphere and beneath its red surface.
We’re so excited about the tremendous scientific and technological advances that will help overcome the challenges set forth to facilitate both a successful launch and journey but also execute the mission upon arrival. Nowhere has proven to be more treacherous than Mars due to its atmosphere being 100 times thinner than the Earth’s. Nicknamed the “7 minutes of terror”, the violent entry into the martian atmosphere - followed by a precisely choreographed landing sequence. So it It does make for a nail biting conclusion of a 300 million mile combined journey - that’s got us all on the edge of our seats.
But while incredibly ambitious and expensive, these missions this should always be viewed as the necessary human endeavors that they are. What if other land discoveries had never been made here on Earth?
The Polynesian migration to Hawai‘i 1,500 years ago the was part of one of the most remarkable human achievements. The Polynesian fisherman navigated thousands of miles of open water in the Pacific Ocean. They created maps of stars on a celestial sphere and used them as directional cues to guide them. Their voyage ultimately led to the colonization of the island.
Using this same principle of embracing the human spirit for exploration and discovery - once the location of an island was known, it became open to settlement. Could this be the same for Mars? We certainly hope so.
In 2021, there is an abundance of hope and optimism centered around these journeys to Earth’s neighboring planet with three countries, three missions and one incredible milestone for humanity.