February 12, 2021
This is an historic week as three Mars spacecraft will arrive in quick succession. And no, I am not talking about UFO’s landing in Central Park to mark the end of the world. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Orbiter (named Amal or “Hope”) was the first to arrive on Tuesday and successfully settle into orbit. This was followed on Wednesday by China’s combined orbiter-rover (Tianwen-1 or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”). The craft will continue to orbit and then in May the rover will descend to the planet’s surface. If successful it will become only the second country to land on Mars, along with the US. The US rover is scheduled to arrive on February 18th and will immediately dive toward the surface. NASA has landed eight of its nine attempts successfully. Mar’s surface is littered with smashed Russian and European attempts along with the failed US Mars Polar Lander.
While Melissa and I were watching a documentary on World War I last night it mentioned the trepidation felt as America sent our first troops to France in 1917. The German U-boats (submarines) had been decimating the cargo ships and it was feared they would do the same to our troops. That is when the leaders devised a plan to ship the men as part of a convoy, heavily defended by small destroyers designed to find and sink the U-boats and save the ships. The plan was successful and American troops and supplies were able to turn the tide of war. Crossing the Atlantic moved from being a death trap to being common.
The countries of the world have made a total of 49 attempts to reach Mars to date. There have been six countries, along with the European Union, who have launched missions to Mars. Mars fly-bys were common in the 1960’s with 12 attempts, but only three were successful. Now orbiting Mars is becoming common as the Chinese and UAB crafts will join six other craft still in orbit: three from the US, two from Europe, and one from India. These are added to the two working Mars rovers and two rovers set to activate this year. The Mars exploration program for the US is scheduled to continue until 2033, followed by a crewed phase in 2040–2060. These crew members would land on Mars and return home. This will begin the process of making Interplanetary travel common.
Thoughts: As we watched last night’s documentary Melissa asked a simple question, “Why didn’t they just fly?” It is amazing to think the first successful flight took place on December 17, 1903, as Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk. They used a stopwatch to time the duration of the flights. Just 66 years later the US Apollo 11 landed two astronauts on the moon and two years after that we landed successfully on Mars. There is only one person in the world still alive at the time of first flight (Kane Tanaka of japan), now few can recall a time when flight was not common. When the extraordinary becomes common we tend to forget. We need to remember the turmoil and change of 2020. If we relegate it to common, we will dismiss the learning gained by our ordeal. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.