Today’s Solutions: May 22, 2024

The pandemic has restrained life here on Earth, but it hasn’t stopped humans from pushing boundaries in space. In fact, spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates, China, and The United States are all scheduled to reach Mars this month after launching from Earth last summer.

All three countries decided to take advantage of a two-month window of opportunity when Earth and Mars line up during their orbit around the sun. This alignment happens only once every two years.

Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, though perhaps better remembered as “The Science Guy,” says that “these governments do these missions for the sake of exploration,” and there is no urgent business that spurred these ventures into space.

Regardless, this small convoy of spacecraft from Earth marks many firsts: it’s the UAE’s first venture into deep space, China’s first independent attempt to land on Mars, and NASA’s first crack at maneuvering a Martian helicopter. 

The Emirati Hope orbiter is projected to be the first to reach Mars’ orbit. Although it will not actually touch down on the planet’s surface, Hope will spend approximately two years surveying the planet’s atmosphere to study daily changes in Martian weather.

Behind UAE’s Hope is China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which translates to “questions to heaven” or “questioning the heavens.” The Tianwen-1 will be surveying the Utopia Planitia region, where a large deposit of water ice is located beneath the planet’s surface.

After three months of surveillance, it will deploy a rover that will operate on the surface of Mars. The rover carries instruments designed to detect deposits of subsurface water ice, which scientists think may contain microbial life.

NASA’s rover, Perseverance, or “Percy” for short, will touch down on the 18th of February at the Jezero Crater. This is the site of an ancient river delta that may demonstrate evidence of past life.

Each country has an individual milestone they would like to reach through their respective spacecraft, but they are all probing for signs of life. With more of these types of exploratory missions deploying from Earth, Bill Nye himself says that the chances of someday finding evidence of life on Mars are “very high”.

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