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3 Spacecraft Will Land On Mars At About The Same Time

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last summer, not one, not two, but three spacecraft took off from Mars within days of each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Six, five...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Five...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Four - engine ignition - two, one, zero. And liftoff.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: And just about seven months after launch, the three will soon greet the Red Planet at about the same time.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter entered the orbit of Mars yesterday. China's Quest for Heavenly Truth rover is expected to arrive today. And the U.S. spacecraft Perseverence is scheduled to actually touch down on the surface of Mars next week.

LEROY CHIAO: It's kind of a little bit of a coincidence that all three spacecraft are going to be arriving, you know, so closely together.

MARTIN: Leroy Chiao is a retired NASA astronaut and International Space Station commander. He says no one intended the traffic jam on Mars. It was just the best time to go.

CHIAO: The mission planners wanted to launch when the planets were going to be lined up to make the journey to Mars as short as possible.

PFEIFFER: For the UAE and China, these missions will mark the first time to Mars for their space programs.

MARTIN: The UAE mission is to orbit the planet and learn about its climate patterns. And China wants to become the second country ever, after the U.S., to land on Mars to look for evidence of water.

CHIAO: The big daddy of them all is going to be the Perseverence rover, the U.S. and NASA rover. And this is very exciting because it's going to search specifically for signs of past and possibly even present microbial life.

PFEIFFER: And that could have a significant impact on future visits.

CHIAO: Even if it's just microbial life that we find, it will be fascinating to further explore it with humans one day and perhaps even find more complex form of life on Mars.

PFEIFFER: Going where no human has gone before.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIAMANS' "PERCEPTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.