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  • Chris Baker

It's not only a matter of Perseverance!

NASA- Perseverance Mission

NASA's Perseverance rover completed its seven-month journey to Mars in February 2021.

To keep up to date with progress you can follow it here:

BUT- there have been two other missions to Mars both of which arrived in February. Here is a little about those two amazing missions:

HOPE- The UAE mission to Mars

Mars is a cold, dry, desert, with a carbon dioxide-filled atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s. But it wasn’t always like that. We know liquid water once flowed on its surface, supported by an atmosphere that may have been favorable to life.

But then something happened. About 3 billion years ago—right around the time life arose on Earth—Mars lost its magnetic field. On Earth, our magnetic field shields us from the solar wind, the constant stream of charged particles coming from the Sun. Without a magnetic field for protection, the solar wind stripped away much of Mars’ atmosphere, eventually transforming the planet into its current state. NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, which is still at Mars, made these findings.

Hope launched 19 July 2020 amidst the added challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It arrived in February 2021 to build a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and study how Mars’ climate changes over time. This will give scientists deeper insight into ancient Mars and whether the planet could have once supported life. It will also help us understand how our own planet’s climate is changing, and what the consequences of those changes are.

Hope also demonstrates the promise and importance of international space exploration. The mission is managed by the United Arab Emirates, with participation from scientists and engineers at U.S. universities. Japan launched the spacecraft. Space exploration brings us all together, and when more nations participate and collaborate, everyone wins.

Tianwen-1 China's Visit to Mars

Water doesn’t currently exist on Mars' surface, but it used to. We know this from dramatic dry canyons and river channels seen from orbit, as well as minerals on the surface that only form in liquid water. Around 3 billion years ago, something happened to Mars’ atmosphere, and most of the liquid water evaporated. But some of it may still be underground, safely shielded from harmful solar radiation that bombards the planet’s surface. Could those ancient pockets of water contain life?

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission launched on 23 July 2020 amidst the added challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It will, among other things, search for pockets of water using radar mounted on the rover. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft found evidence for subsurface water using radar from orbit, but this will be the first time a rover has searched from the ground. (NASA’s Perseverance rover also has a radar instrument; it will launch and land on Mars at about the same time as Tianwen-1.)

Tianwen-1 will give China valuable Mars experience and lay groundwork for a possible sample return mission planned for the end of the 2020s. Getting Martian samples back to Earth is a top priority for the scientific community. Despite the impressive advances made in placing miniature science instruments on spacecraft, only Earth-bound technology can date samples with absolute precision, reproduce scientific results, and verify the presence or absence of life in a sample.

Only NASA has successfully landed and operated spacecraft on Mars. More countries exploring Mars and our solar system means more discoveries and opportunities for global collaboration. Space exploration brings out the best in us all, and when nations work together everyone wins.

Tianwen means "questions to heaven," or "questioning the heavens." You can listen to a pronunciation of Tianwen by Quanzhi Ye. All interplanetary Chinese missions are expected to carry the Tianwen moniker going forward.

Thanks to the Planetary Society.

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