Mission to Mars

Source: By The Indian Express

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first mission to Mars has taken off from its launch site, Tanegashima Space Center, in Japan on 20 July 2020. The spacecraft blast off from the Earth during a brief launch window, since Earth and Mars orbit the Sun at different rates and are aligned at their closest points only once every two years. The Emirates Mars Mission called “Hope” was announced in 2015 with the aim of creating mankind’s first integrated model of the Red planet’s atmosphere.

Hope weighs over 1500 kg, and carried scientific instruments mounted on one side of the spacecraft, including the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI), which is a high-resolution camera, the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS), a far-UV imaging spectrograph, the Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS), and FTIR scanning spectrometer.

The spacecraft will orbit Mars to study the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with outer space and solar winds. Hope will collect data on Martian climate dynamics, which should help scientists, understand why Mars’ atmosphere is decaying into space.

In 2017, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft revealed that solar wind and radiation had stripped the Martian atmosphere from the planet, which could have supported life billions of years ago. In 2015, MAVEN team members showed how the planet’s atmospheric gas is being lost to space. This meant that Mars’ atmosphere is too cold and thin to provide stability to liquid water, which is essential for life. But evidence, in the form of features resembling dry river beds and minerals that can only be formed in the presence of liquid water, indicates that the ancient Martian atmosphere was much warmer, allowing water to flow on its surface.

Therefore, scientists want to study the past environments that would have existed on Mars to understand how a planet’s habitability can change over time.

Hope will will enter the Red planet’s orbit by 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of UAE. The mission is being executed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, UAE’s space agency. “It will help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year,” the mission’s website says.

The spacecraft will gather data– 1000 GBs of it, according to UAE’s Ministry of Cabinet Affairs–and information enabling scientists to build a model of Martian atmosphere, giving them clues about why the atmosphere changed, to search for a connection between current weather on Mars and the one that existed, study the loss mechanisms of Mars’ atmosphere and to investigate how the lower and upper levels of the planet’s atmosphere are connected.

Why Mars?

It mostly boils down to the possibility that the atmosphere of Mars was once warm enough to allow water to flow through its surface, which could mean life existed there too.

What makes scientists curious about Mars is the “defining question” of the existence of life on the planet, because of the possible presence of liquid water on it, either in the past or preserved in its subsurface. This question makes the planet more intriguing for scientists since “almost everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life,” as NASA puts it.

Further, if Mars harboured a warmer atmosphere enabling water to flow in its ancient past (3.5-3.8 billion years ago), and if microbial life existed on it, it is possible that it exists in “special regions” even today. But regardless of life having existed on Mars or not, there is the idea that humans themselves might be able to inhabit the planet one day.

Hope is the Arab world’s first mission to Mars. Apart from the UAE, US, China and the European Space Agency have future missions to Mars planned. According to the Planetary Society, Mars has historically been “unfriendly” to Earth’s attempts to visit it and more missions have been planned to reach Mars than any other planet or place in the solar system, barring the Moon.

But 1996, the society notes, marked a Renaissance for Mars exploration, with data from four orbiters and four landed missions developing a revolutionary view of Mars as an Earth-like world.

NASA is set to launch its Perseverance rover, part of its Mars 2020 mission between July 30-August 15 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover will explore ancient habitability, seek signs of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration.

No human has set foot on Mars yet because the atmosphere on Mars is very thin, consisting of mostly carbon dioxide with no breathable oxygen, making it difficult for astronauts to survive there. Further, the landscape of Mars is freezing, with no protection from the Sun’s radiation or passing dust storms. Therefore, more research, technology and testing is required to be able to send humans to Mars. NASA plans to do so by the 2030s.