• Reading Levels 3 - 5

Missions to Mars

After seven months of travelling through space, three rival space robot probes are set to reach Mars within days of one another. What does each mission hope to achieve on the red planet? What's happening? Yesterday, at 3:42pm, the UAEThe United Arab Emirates is a country in the Middle East, and the location of Dubai. space agency's "Hope" probe started to burn 50% of its fuel. Twenty-six minutes later, it entered Mars' gravitational pull. It was a successful end to a journey of more than 481 million km and 204 days - and is a first for the country. But the probe will not be alone for long. It is one of three separate missions due to arrive on our neighbouring planet within three weeks. Later today, if all goes to plan, a Chinese lander - part of the Tianwen-1 mission - will touch down on the red soil. And in just over a week, on 18 February, the NasaThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration, responsible for the US space programme. Perseverance rover will join it. Why now? Because the chance to fly there only comes around occasionally. Mars and Earth are on very different orbits. As it is further from the sun, Mars has a much longer year - around 687 days. So, while we think of Mars as a close neighbour, it is often very far away. In fact, for much of the time, our planets are on opposite sides of the sun and 54.6 million km apart. But every 26 months, the orbits align. For a short time, we are less than 34 million km away from our neighbour. For anyone planning a trip to Mars, this is the time to go. And that is precisely what happened last July, when all three space agencies launched their missions. Has anyone done this before? Yes! There have been 49 Mars missions since 1960 - although many have failed. The Soviet Union became the first country to land a spacecraft on the surface in 1971. The Mars 3 Lander successfully transmitted a partial image before losing contact 14.5 seconds later. Nasa is the leading space agency when it comes to rovers. So far, it has sent four. Curiosity, a 2012 mission, is still active. For China and the UAE though, Mars missions are a first. What will they be doing on Mars? Each mission is designed to gather different types of information. Tianwen-1 is due to land in the area known as Utopia PlanitiaA plain inside Utopia, the largest discovered impact basin on Mars. It is unknown what caused the crater, which is over 3,300km wide.. It will investigate the geology and discover more about the history of the planet using radar that can penetrate 100m below the surface. Meanwhile, Perseverance will be looking for signs of life. Engineers have built a seven-metre arm that will be able to collect and store samples. Although Perseverance will never leave Mars, the plan is to collect them and return them to Earth on later missions. Are they just rovers? No. "Hope" is not a rover at all. It will stay in orbit around the planet, collecting information and sending it back to mission control. It will measure atmosphericRelating to the atmosphere, the layer of gases surrounding a planet or moon, held in place by that planet's gravity. changes and weather patterns to understand what life could be like on the planet. China's Tianwen-1 mission is not just a rover either. When the lander breaks off to travel to the ground, part of it will stay above ground and orbit the planet. However, it is less clear what exactly the probe will be measuring as China has kept its plans quiet. Are humans next? Maybe! With every successful mission, we learn more about what to expect on the rusty planet. Plus, as the success rate goes up, it is looking ever more likely that humans could be making the trip soon. But it probably won't be big national space agencies that get there first. Elon MuskA South African-born entrepreneur whose companies have included the online payment service PayPal.'s SpaceX looks set to win the race. The company is busy building starships - totally reusable rockets capable of transporting 100 passengers at a time. If they work, whole cities of people could be setting up on Mars for life. In December last year, Musk said it was highly likely there would be humans on Mars by 2026. "If we get lucky," he added, "maybe four years".KeywordsUAE - The United Arab Emirates is a country in the Middle East, and the location of Dubai.

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