July 26, 2020 – Mars, a Popular Destination

Let’s go to Mars!

Mars has become an important target of several nations.  In 1971 the USSR became the first to successfully land a craft (Mars 3) on Mars.  Its mission was cut short (lasted 14.5 seconds) by a massive dust storm, but it managed to transmit some data and images before going silent. It never recovered.

Since then the US has been sole proprietor of Mars surface exploration.  In fact, the US has successfully landed eight craft on Mars:  Viking 1, Viking 2, Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, Phoenix Mars Lander, Mars Science Laboratory with Curiosity Rover, and Mars Insight Lander.  Mars is getting crowded with geek stations.  Most have gone silent, dust, age, mission end.

Speaking of getting crowded, what about the space around Mars?  Yep, space junk is circling Mars too, at least fourteen orbiting craft, and more to come.  Four countries have so-far successfully sent craft to orbit Mars.  Russia, USA, ESA, and India.  Of course, it’s not just Mars, we have spacecraft orbiting the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, asteroid belt objects Vesta and Ceres, Jupiter, and comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko too.  That’s a lot of investigating!

Yet, Mars is THE destination, a really big deal.  You would think there are enough space-based and surface-based craft there now.  But you would be wrong.  Here’s why:

  • Longevity – most craft are kaput. Batteries die, solar panels get covered in dust, something breaks, or a rover gets stuck.  It’s always something!
  • Technology – it’s very difficult to miniaturize, automate, and harden the kinds of analytic equipment needed.
  • Knowledge – every mission builds our knowledgebase, leading to new concepts for what to analyze and how to analyze it. Each new site studied presents new challenges and opportunities.  See technology.
  • Politics – That’s all I’m going to say

Mars is the hot spot for space exploration and soon we’ll see flags of some new members of the Mars exploration club flying. The Emirates Mars Mission (UAE) just launched a planned orbiter to study Martian atmosphere. The China National Space Administration plans an orbiter-lander-rover mission this year. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has an orbiter planned for a 2024 launch.

The big push is for finding signs of or actual life on Mars.  That would be a monumental discovery, possibly changing how we look at the universe and our place in it.  The optimist in me says it’s a matter of when, not if.

Will Mars be the next New World?

What’s in the Sky?

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is still out there but heading away from us. It is slowly edging from Ursa Major toward Arcturus in Bootes.  Not a great comet, but a good comet I’d say.

July 29; 3am and later; south-southwest: The Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower

August 1; about an hour after sunset; southeast:  A bright Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are together