CAPE CAÑAVERAL, Florida, USA (AP) – After traveling millions of miles through space since last summer, three robotic explorers are preparing to land on Mars.
Anxiety and stakes are through the roof.
The Emirati orbiter will arrive on the red planet on Tuesday, and in less than 24 hours, the Chinese orbiter and explorer will arrive. The NASA spacecraft, the Cosmic Nightmare, will arrive on February 18 to collect rocks and then return to Earth, a key step in determining whether life exists on Mars.
The United Arab Emirates and China are the latest to reach Mars, with more than half of Earth’s envoys failing. The first Chinese mission on Mars was a joint effort with Russia in 2011 and has never crossed Earth’s orbit.
“We are very excited as engineers and scientists, and at the same time we feel nervous, happy, anxious and afraid,” said Imran Sharaf, project manager in the United Arab Emirates.
The spacecraft blasted the three days apart in July, during the Earth and Mars launch window that occurs only every two years. That’s why their arrival is very close too.
Called Amal (Amal in Arabic), the spacecraft for this Gulf country seeks a particularly high orbit: 13,500 x 27,000 miles (22,000 x 44,000 km), all of this is better for observing Mars weather.
The Chinese duo, called Tianwen-1 (Searching for the Celestial Truth), will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover detaches and descends to the reddish and dusty surface. If all goes well, it will be the second country to successfully land on the Red Planet.
In contrast, the persistent US rover would seek to land immediately, similar to what the Curiosity spacecraft did in 2012. The odds are in NASA’s favor: it made eight out of nine landing attempts on Mars.
Despite their differences, a one-ton perseverance is larger and more detailed than Tianwen-1, and both will look for signs of microscopic life.
The $ 3 billion perseverance mission is the first stage in an effort between the United States and Europe to bring Mars samples to Earth in the next decade.
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– NASA (@ NASA) February 6, 2021