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  • Apollon Bairaktaridis

Three Nations, Three Missions and One Red Planet

Three countries are now involved in the new space race to Mars, with the UAE and China now entering into the Space Age. Here is how their missions to Mars have been going.

The first picture of the Martian surface from NASA's Perseverance (Photo:

The United Arab Emirates, China and the USA separately worked on 3 space missions that approached the planet Mars. The United Arab Emirates approached the Martian orbit at first on 9th February 2021. The mission was called “Hope” and the moment it reached its destination can be described as a historical one. This achievement is the first interplanetary mission realized by an Arabic nation and there could have been no better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s formation. The accomplishment is even greater, considering that the space agency of the UAE has only existed for seven years. During this period of time, young scientists had the opportunity to cooperate with a Colorado-based facility which also holds an important position during past NASA missions. The gained experience will ensure the next space project in the near future. So, the main question remains, what are the activities of the probe in the Martian orbit? It will study the global weather and climate of the red planet. Moreover, it will search for hydrogen and oxygen. The mission will last 1 Martian year, which can be defined as 2 earthly years.

The second mission approached the Martian orbit one day later on 10th February 2021. It is a Chinese mission called Tianwen-1, which can be translated as “Questions to the sky”. That mission was prepared and executed exclusively by China. Unlike the Arabic mission Hope, Tianwen-1 is going to send a rover to the planet itself. Before that can happen, the probe will stay 2 to 3 months in the orbit to find the best location for landing. Landing a rover can be extreme risky as in the past only 40 % of landing missions succeeded. Taking that risk into account, only the USA and the Soviet Union have achieved a landing execution before. Of a total of 10 successful landings the USA has been a part of nine of them. The Soviets achieved that also once but the connections to its rover was lost after 20 seconds. China’s ambition can be defined as becoming the third state in mankind’s history to reach the soil of Mars. The rover will land in the area known as Utopia Platinia, where it’s mission is to explore whether an ancient ocean existed and also to study the geological evolution of volcanoes.

The last mission approached the soil of Mars on 18th February and was designed and executed in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA. The USA sent a rover directly to the planet. It’s called “Perseverance” and it contains also a small helicopter called “Ingenuity” that is going to be activated and therefore execute the first flight test on a foreign planet. The rover has already sent a video of its landing and the very first audio recording from the planet. We were able to see how the planet was looking and now we can hear how the planet sounds. Due to Curiosity and Perseverance the USA now possess two active rovers. In a direct comparison Perseverance is the bigger rover and it’s also equipped with a different technology. Unlike in the past where the missions searched for life-friendly regions, the new purpose of this mission is to search for microbiological life. It landed in the Jezero Crater where the rover can search for water as well.

All 3 missions can provide us with new knowledge of the red planet. Another space race has started but this time more nations are participating in it. The USA, the UAE and also China present themselves as progressive and modern states which are taking the lead in technology and space discovery. While the scientists that realized these missions should really be lauded for their accomplishment the states can also be criticized for trying to cover their huge domestic problems by these adventures into space. The UAE are often criticized for its human right violations and China has been criticized for its program of “reeducation” of the Muslim Uyghur minority in the country (which both Canada and the Netherlands have recognized as a genocide) and the USA, that are spending millions of dollars for its space mission while in the country racial problems still infringe upon the society.

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