Orbital mechanics have dictated that the USA, UAE and PRC who sent probes to arrive at mars formed a defacto fleet of probes to the Red Planet. Arriving next week NASA and the PRC will independently be landing probes at Mars. When the rover Curiosity landed at Mars via a risky jet pack landing. It was the first time the “sky crane” had been tried. This time it will be done among even more daunting terrain. The most amazing part of it all is that it has to be done by the computers on the craft itself. There is no way it could be remotely controlled. From Earth as even at the speed of light, at the distance from Earth to Mars the light speed delay is about ten minutes. As this is happening at Mars the Sun is actually closer to us than Mars is. The entry, descent and landing at Mars takes seven minutes.
A space craft arriving to land on Mars will either be down safely or in pieces by the time we know about it on Earth. As we watch people at mission control monitor the events in real time they will be monitoring what has occurred. Perhaps in some future time when astronauts are in orbit of Mars they could control rovers and drones on Mars’s surface. For now at Mars AI is in the drivers seat. We can just tell it where to go. For the first time we will also be sending a small flying drone to Mars. If this thing works who knows where it may lead. Flying rovers would mean being able to explore rough terrains we have only seen via orbital photographs.
The United States of America is not alone this time. The United Arab Emirates were actually first to arrive at Mars. Their orbiter will orbit Mars with a unique instrument which will examine the atmosphere of Mars in a way it never has been before. The UAE also has very interesting concepts for how a Mars colony could be built. From the concept art it is basically embracing what Mars is, a desert and bringing to the table their experience at building and living in a desert environment.
Also of great interest to me as an educator is the fact that they chose to do it themselves. The UAE certainly had the money to pay foreign experts to build a knock off of any rocket out there, slap their name on it, call it a win. Instead they developed the indigenous expertise and industry to do this. As a science educator I try to impress upon students that science is a thing one does, not a thing one watches. One can watch all the ballet they want but only dancing makes a dancer. One can watch all the football they want but only playing makes a player. Science is just like that.
By developing this expertise in house the UAE has shown space is not just for super powers.
Tianwen-1 : Heavenly Questions
Mars will see another rover from another country, I believe, for the first time ever. The Peoples Republic of China will send not only a orbiter but a lander in the same mission and they are also setting up for a future sample return mission. Getting some soil from the red planet back to Earth will be a tremendous achievement if they can pull it off. The US approach has been to send mobile laboratories to Mars. In part out of fear of bringing back something alive. The great disadvantage is this will limit the science that can be done to the science which was thought of in advance. While a sample here on Earth can be used in unlimited ways.