Why 3 countries are sending robots to Mars

Published 2020-07-13 12:47

Scientists hope to uncover planet’s hidden secrets

Watch out, Mars — planet Earth is sending robots your way.

Beginning this week, the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are all sending unmanned spacecraft on 483-million-kilometre journeys to the Red Planet.

Why? Mars has countless hidden secrets that scientists hope to uncover.

But in order to reach the planet, the robots will have to plunge through its hazy red skies and around its boulders and cliffs.

Here’s why scientists say the missions are worth the risks.

What they hope to find

Scientists still have many questions about the solar system’s second-smallest planet, including what life would be like if humans could ever live there.

They also want to know what Mars was like billions of years ago when it had rivers, lakes and oceans — before it morphed into the wintry desert world it is today.

Not only that, but scientists are also searching for signs of tiny microbial life that may have existed.

A view of Mars from space, surrounded by blackness.

Scientists continue to explore Mars, which is full of electric blue clouds, cold temperatures and high-pitched sounds. (Image credit: Greg Shirah/NASA)

Why now?

The U.S. space agency — NASA — says it’s important now more than ever to launch the three missions.

That’s because they fall within a one-month window when Mars and Earth align on the same side of the sun.

That window only happens once every 26 months and is ideal because it minimizes travel time and fuel use.

China's Mars lander in the sky as scientists tested its capabilities in 2019.

China will launch its Mars rover and an orbiter sometime around July 23 in a mission named Tianwen, or Questions for Heaven. (Image Credit: Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Meet the rovers

So far, the U.S. is the only country to have successfully put a spacecraft on the planet, but the UAE and China want to join the club.

The UAE is sending a rover that will strive to study the planet’s upper atmosphere and monitor climate change.

Chinese officials aren’t divulging much about their plan, but have named the mission Tianwen, which translates as Questions for Heaven.

The U.S. is sending a rover the size of a car — named Perseverance — to collect rock samples that will be brought back to Earth for analysis.

Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the United Arab Emirates Mars mission, talks about the project named Hope, or Amal in Arabic, in 2015.

Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the United Arab Emirates Mars mission, talks about the project named Hope, or Amal in Arabic, in 2015. (Image Credit: Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press)

The risks

Over the years, Mars has proved to be a graveyard for more than half of all robots that have attempted the journey.

Spacecraft have blown up, burned up or crash-landed while trying to breach its land and atmosphere.

To reach their destinations, the American and Chinese spacecraft will have to make it through the planet’s red skies, an experience named “seven minutes of terror.”

Water-carved channels of the Jezero crater, which harbored a lake billions of years ago.

NASA is aiming to touch down on Jezero Crater, which is full of boulders, cliffs, sand dunes and depressions. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

NASA’s Perseverance rover will head to the Jezero Crater.

Scientists say the crater, which used to be a large lake, may hold answers to tiny life that once lived there.

But to reach the crater, Perseverance will have to make it around countless hazards like boulders, cliffs and sand dunes.

How long will it take?

It will take at least six months for the spacecraft to reach Mars.

All three rovers are expected to reach Mars next February.

With files from The Associated Press

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