Space race heads to Mars — Four missions plan to explore Earth's closest neighbour in July this year
- Mars is humanity’s ‘back up’ plan in case the Earth were ever to become uninhabitable.
- This year, four different missions plan to explore the Red Planet for signs of life and the potential for human colonisation.
- All then plan to launch during the July window when Mars will be at least closest to Earth.
Mars is humanity’s back-up plan. If the Earth were ever to become inhabitable, the contingency plan is to colonise our next-door neighbour. But before that’s possible, scientists need more information.
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The space race is going forward full-throttle with four space missions — by four different countries — scheduled to launch in July this year. All of them with the singular objective to study Mars, and the potential it holds for human habitation.
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Mercury may be the closest planet to every other planet in the solar system, but Mars stays closest to Earth for the longest time period. The two planets are closest to each other every 26 months — an event that’s called the Mars Close Approach. From Earth, it’s when Mars appears brightest in the sky.
At its closest, Mars is approximately 54.6 million kilometres away. Yet, not all close encounters are equal. In 2003, it was less than 56 million kilometres from Earth — the closest it’s ever been in 60,000 years and won’t be again until the year 2287.
The Red Planet’s last close approach was in 2018 when it was 57.6 million kilometres away. This year in July, it will be even further — approximately 62.07 million kilometres away, which is over 161 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Nonetheless, astronomers are excited because it’s the closest Mars will be to Earth for another 26 months.
Here are the missions that plan to take advantage of Mars Close Approach in July to study the Red Planet:
Mars 2020 — The first helicopter to fly over another planet
Hope Mars Mission — The UAE’s first tryst with space beyond Earth’s orbit
ExoMars — Looking under the Red Planet’s surface
China plans to explore Mars the Chandrayaan 2 way
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