Work together on a mission to Mars
- A number of countries, including China, have the red planet in their sights
- In a fractious world, is there a better way to enhance international cooperation than to explore another planet together?
Mars is about to get very busy. The American space agency Nasa has just landed its latest InSight lander on the red planet. Its purpose is to take an unprecedented look deep beneath the surface. But the United States, which is already planning to send another probe in more than a year from now, is not the only Mars-exploring country. China, India, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and a joint European-Russian project are all planning their own missions to the planet in 2020. Given their mutual intense interest in Mars, perhaps it’s time for these nations to pool their resources and work together rather than to compete and labour on separately. In a fractious world, is there a better way to enhance international cooperation than to explore another planet together?
After the moon, Mars is being targeted for manned missions in the coming decades, mainly by China and the US. When even Elon Musk, the controversial boss of the SpaceX satellite launch service company, says he wants to live and even die on Mars, human colonisation is perhaps not far off. What was once science fiction is now mainly about technology.
Scientists already know a great deal about Mars’ surface and its atmosphere. The new missions will yield greater insights into its core in addition to searching for the building blocks of life. Not all of them will work out. But the Europeans and Russians already have strong experience in sending probes to Mars while China has deep pockets and extraordinary commitment backed by the state. State media has reported plans to send probes to Jupiter in 2036 and Uranus in 2046. The Chinese Mars mission in 2020 will involve an orbiter, lander and rover. If successful, the plan is to retrieve samples over the next decade to bring them back to Earth. But a manned mission to the planet is the ultimate goal.
An experimental “Mars village” called the Simulated Mars Station has been in use in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to simulate the Martian environment since last year. Six “astronauts”, including British astrobiologist Sam Payler, spent eight months living together in the village in a successful experiment. Sending humans to Mars now seems only a matter of time. Let us promote humanity and international cooperation in this unprecedented endeavour.