Roughly seven months ago the U.S., China and United Arab Emirates took advantage of favourable Earth/Mars orbit to launch missions to Mars. Over the next two weeks all three, one orbiter and two landers will reach Mars. Ponder the enormity of three nations, three separate missions congregating at Mars within days of each other. Who knew the UAE has a space program? Why is China poking at Mars? How many people still believe space exploration starts and ends with NASA? Who even knows how many separate space missions are active?
The UAE arrives first on February 9th. The EMM (Emirates Mars Mission) probe Amal is an orbiter tasked with collecting atmospheric data. The UAE space program is an initiative to advance science and technology rather than reliance on oil. The very next day China’s Tianwen-1, a dual orbiter/lander mission settles into orbit. If all goes well, Tianwen-1 will deploy its solar powered lander sometime in May. This is China’s second attempt to deploy a Mars lander, their 2011 joint venture with Russia failed. On February 18 NASA’s Perseverance Rover skips orbit for immediate deployment to the Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta which flowed into a lake. NASA is the only space agency to successfully land on Mars. (Eight times since 1976 )
The Apollo era cemented universal cosmic wonder. The enormity of space travel, realization of science fiction becoming reality resonated with collective astonishment. Tonight I write of three autonomous Mars missions arriving within days of each other knowing full well most people aren’t interested. Today, cosmic wonder languishes in a puddle of competing click bait, occasionally bubbling to the surface when news feeds pluck near Earth asteroid calamity froth. Missions to Mars aren’t enough to attract clicks and views. Cosmic wonder suffers in silence.