China’s Mars Mission
China has launched its first Mars Mission, the ‘Tianwen-1’ which is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface in the first quarter of 2021. The success of the mission will make China the third country to achieve a Mars landing after the USSR and the United States.
- Named after the ancient Chinese poem ‘Questions to Heaven’, the Tianwen-1, an all-in-one orbiter, lander and rover will search the Martian surface for water, ice, investigate soil characteristics, and study the atmosphere, among competing other objectives.
- The Chinese mission will be the first to place a ground-penetrating radar on the Martian surface, which will be able to study local geology, as well as rock, ice, and dirt distribution. Two candidate landing sites have been identified, one of them being Utopia Planitia.
Previous Mars’ Missions
- The USSR in 1971 became the first country to carry out a Mars landing– its ‘Mars 3’ lander being able to transmit data for 20 seconds from the Martian surface before failing. The country made its second and Mars landing two years later in 1973.
- The second country to reach Mars’s surface, the US, holds the record for the most number of Mars landings. Since 1976, it has achieved 8 successful Mars landings, the latest being the ‘InSight’ in 2019 (launched in 2018).
- India and the European Space Agency have been able to place their spacecraft in Mars’s orbit. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or ‘Mangalyaan’ was able to do so in September 2014, almost a year after its launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh.
US’s Mission on Mars
- NASA’s newest rover Perseverance — other rovers have landed on Mars earlier — will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and microbial life in its ancient past. Over its mission duration of one Martian year (687 Earth days), it will collect Martian rock and sediment samples for analysis on Earth.
- The rover is equipped with specialised equipment to collect data, analyse weather conditions that can help plan for future human missions, and produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.
- Perseverance is expected to touch down on Mars on February 18, 2021. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since 2012. It remains active although its targeted mission life is over.
Why study Mars?
- After the Moon, the most number of space missions in the Solar System have been to Mars. Despite being starkly different in many ways, the Red Planet has several Earth-like features– such as clouds, polar ice caps, canyons, volcanoes, and seasonal weather patterns.
- For ages, scientists have wondered whether Mars can support life. In the past few years, Mars missions have been able to discover the possible presence of liquid water on the planet, either in the subsurface today or at some point in its past.
- This has made space explorers more curious about whether the planet can sustain life. Newer NASA missions have since transitioned from their earlier strategy of “Follow the Water” to “Seek Signs of Life”.