This Month, Three Countries Are Heading Off to Mars
by Tony Reichardt/Smithsonianmag.com. June 2020
Every 26 months or so, when the planets are favorably aligned, spacecraft can be sent to Mars at a discount—in terms of the rocket fuel required. NASA, which has a lot of experience in this area, rarely misses the chance. U.S. spacecraft have been dispatched to Mars during six of the last eight biennial launch windows.
This summer, two newcomers are ready to hop on the Mars train: China and the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab country to attempt a planetary mission. Meanwhile, NASA will up its game with the first half of a two-part campaign to collect Martian samples and return them to Earth.
Another launch had been on the schedule, but the European/Russian Exomars mission was forced to miss this year’s window due to technical delays and, finally, the coronavirus. As of late April, the global pandemic still hung like a cloud over everyone’s plans, complicating the logistics of final testing and transport to the launch pad. But spacecraft from three different countries are still scheduled to leave this planet for Mars in July, with arrival next February.
Here’s what they hope to accomplish.