We could know a lot more about Mars soon. This month, United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe and China’s Tianwen-1 have entered Mars’ orbit.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance rover will also land on the planet’s surface. But instead of collecting data, the rover will collect samples to be picked up by another mission later in the decade.
Perseverance is essentially a nuclear-powered self-driving car, and its primary mission is to collect samples that will be picked up by another spacecraft later this decade and returned to Earth. With any luck, this red dust will contain evidence that Mars once hosted microbial life. But whether scientists will recognize extraterrestrial life when they see it remains an open question. Aside from hunting for aliens, Perseverance will also enable a first-of-its-kind technology demonstration involving a small helicopter called Ingenuity. A few days after landing, Perseverance will jettison the helicopter in a clearing where it will attempt several short flights. If it works, it will be the first time an aircraft has flown on another planet.
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The aeroshell containing NASA’s Perseverance rover guides itself towards the Martian surface as it descends through the atmosphere in this illustration.
Why are all these missions happening at the same time? And what are we hoping to learn about the Red Planet?
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