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Utah Skies: Three Mars Missions In February


Mars has been the center for the search for life in our solar system since the first US Viking lander in 1976. Since that time dozens of unmanned missions have been sent to Mars by the US or Russia as orbiters, landers or rovers. During the next two weeks Mars will be visited by missions sent by United Arab Emirates, China and NASA.

The orbiter mission from the UAR called Hope arrived on Feb. 9. The Chinese orbiter rover called Tianwen-1 arrived Feb. 10. NASA’s rover Perseverance arrives on Mars a week later on February 18th.

This will be the first Mars missions for the UAR and China. The UAR mission will orbit Mars and study the Martian atmosphere and weather systems. 

The Chinese mission starts off in orbit. In May it’s rover will separate and land on the red planet's surface and explore the largest Martian impact crater called Utopia Planitia. 

A week later on Feb. 18 NASA’s Perseverance rover will land in a difficult location called Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta believed to have once held microbial life. One of its goals is to collect Martian soil samples to be picked up by a later mission in 2026 and brought back to Earth. Perseverance also has a small unmanned helicopter called Ingenuity which will be the first time an aircraft has flown on another planet. 

These three historic missions show the advancement of space exploration. Their success will be a challenge as only 40% of all Mars missions have succeeded. 

Mars is easily seen as a bright orange object due south just after sunsets.