Parallel to the pandemic that is hitting the world, human technology reached the planet Mars three times this month. In February 2021, three probes from three different countries achieved the feat of crossing what is now our last frontier. With this trio of epics, that great fascination and curiosity for the red planet is rekindled in the imaginary of humanity, which especially since the XNUMXth century has monopolized not only scientific scenarios, but also those of popular culture, marking a fourth trip that more it has to do with desires, aspirations, fantasies and a desire for transcendence.
Specifically, the three exploration ships that today plow through the territories of the red planet are the Al Amal (Hope) probe from the United Arab Emirates; the Tianwen-1, of the space agency of China; and the Perseverance of NASA, USA.
The fourth journey - the one that has gone even further - began much earlier, in literature, cinema and the mass media, with books such as "The War of the Worlds" (1898) by HG Wells; series like "My favorite Martian" (1963-1966); and films such as “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964), “Total Recall” (1990), “Martians on the Attack” (1996) and the contemporary classic “Misión Rescate” (2015), whose original name in English is “El Marciano ”, Just like the best-selling novel where the script comes from. David Bowie even sang on the red planet, with his emotional hit "Life in Mars."
Closer, streaming service producers have also scored with this blockbuster issue with the Netflix series "Mars", made in association with National Geographic and which proposes a discursive mode that mixes fiction and reality; and from the same house, the drama “Lejos” (2020), which at times is closer to melodrama than science fiction, but still satisfies the fans.
Mars is a chimera
The fascination about what lies beyond our celestial vault is as old as humanity itself and common to all the peoples of the world.
Trying to delimit this history to the most recent centuries, to the West and to popular culture, it is essential to talk about Jules Verne and his novel "From the Earth to the Moon" or the silent film "Journey to the Moon", by George Méliès, whose frame of our satellite being pierced by a rocket in its right eye has been assumed as a symbol of cinema itself. And if we talk about cults that reach almost religiosity, the vast legions of Star Wars and Star Trek fans.
Traveling to space, knowing it, exploring it and interacting with it not only makes the mind travel to unexplored territories, but also to unexplored times, to the future. It is an indivisible association, so it is doubly virgin territory for the pure imagination, and consequently a human obsession.
Within that great story that is the conquest of outer space, no other sub-topic is as attractive as the planet Mars. Its striking red color, its evocative name, the fantasies about whether or not there is life on its surface, the stories about a future arrival of humanity to its places, establishing a colony, building a second home, a second civilization, having a second chance as a species ... they are not equal to what we fantasize about any other of our neighboring stars. And based on that idea, our imagination has flown on a journey without pauses that has lasted centuries and has been fed with the data droppers that science has been contributing.
“We have to get to Mars because it protects us from extinction. There are all kinds of things that could happen on Earth and kill every human on the planet. But once humans are on two different planets, the possibility of extinction falls almost to zero ", says a spokesman for popular culture, the American Andy Weir, author of the novel El Marciano.
From the business world, says Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX (and the richest man in the world): "Getting to Mars will be risky, dangerous, uncomfortable, but it will be the greatest adventure in the history of mankind." Both statements are part of the interviews captured in the first episode of the aforementioned series Mars, from Netflix and NatGeo.
Our history on Mars
After the exploits of the dog Laika, Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshova, and the arrival of the human being on the Moon at Apollo 11 in 1969, the scientific frontiers of humanity were pushed towards the red planet in a reissue of the space race that has involved several world powers.
Because the exploration of Mars is not a scientific field that is being inaugurated, on the contrary, although no human being has set foot on the planet, it is a widely investigated territory.
Contrary to what the average reader might think, the Soviets were the first to try and make it to Mars. The Mars 1960A and Mars 1960B probes, launched in 1960, were the first to be launched from Earth to the neighboring planet, but they failed to escape Earth orbit and were destroyed. Better luck had Mars 1, which in 1962 tried to fly over the planet at a distance of 11.000 km; and although he did not get that close, he was the first human object to approach the red star.
In 1964 : The United States sent the Mariner 3, which would fail due to engineering problems. In 1965, NASA sent Mariner 4, which managed to transmit the first photographs of Mars taken in its vicinity. For its part, the Soviets' Zond 2 would fly over Mars in 1965 at a distance of 1.500 kilometers, but without sending data.
In 1969 : Mariner 6 and 7 from the United States arrived, flying over the planet's surface at about 3.500 kilometers above sea level. Both managed to send about 200 photographs.
In 1971 : Mariner 9 became the first human object to orbit the planet, in fact it was its first artificial satellite, and that same year the Soviet Union became the first power to land a remotely controlled exploration vehicle on the surface. with your Mars 2.
The Soviets continued to investigate with the Mars 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 probes with varying degrees of success and failure.
In 1976 : The US makes the Viking 1 and Viking 2 probes descend on the planet, which manage to transmit photographs of the surface from the plains of Chryse and Utopia. They remained active until 1982.
In the 90 several missions of the US and the Russians continued their course without great positive balance. Until in 1997, NASA's Mars Pathfinder, a vehicle for testing new technologies, arrived on Mars.
The first Japanese orbital probe to the planet, called Nozomi, was launched in 1998, it flew over Mars on December 14, 2003, but several failures led to the failure of the mission.
In 2001 : The US sent the Mars Odyssey to Mars, which is accommodated in a 2-hour Martian orbit. Discover the existence of ice, which supports the theory of large amounts of water on Mars and sparks enthusiasm for what that means for a future manned mission, that is, with people.
In 2003 : Great Britain in collaboration with the European Space Agency sends the Mars Express that remains in orbit and the Beagle 2 that descends to the surface but has not emitted signs of life since then. At the same time, the US successfully sends Spirit and Opportunity.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft arrived at Mars in 2006. In 2007, the Phoenix probe was launched and landed at the planet's north pole.
In 2011 : The Russian Phobos-Grunt probe was launched bound for the Mars satellite Phobos, but after orbiting the Earth for a few days its electronic systems failed when trying to put it on the way to its destination.
On November 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory, known as Curiosity, was launched. And in 2014 a new country inscribed its name in Martian exploration: India, with the Mangalyann satellite.
Since then the route has not been traveled again, until this year three times.
Now let's take a look at the three missions to Mars that this year brought the planet back to power on everyone's lips. These are projects that are very different from each other, with different motivations and objectives.
In the case of Al Amal, from the United Arab Emirates, it was conceived as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the country's independence from the British. The probe was manufactured in part at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, in the US, and another on the ground in the UAE.
It was launched on July 19, 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Center (Japan). Its objective is to remain as a satellite of the red planet to carry out atmospheric explorations during the two years that it is calculated to be operational.
As for Tianwen-1, the mission brings an orbiter, a lander, and a rover to Mars. The launch took place on July 23 of last year and entered Martian orbit on February 10, with plans to make remote explorations to land on the surface within seven months.
The mission's top priorities include finding both current and ancient life, assessing the planet's surface and environment.
Finally, the most talked about in recent days, the Perseverance probe is a very sophisticated NASA mission, and it is the heaviest and most complex vehicle put by man in the neighboring sphere.
It was launched on July 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida and landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. Its design is almost identical to the Curiosity rover; has seven scientific instruments to study the Martian surface starting from the Jezero crater. It also has 23 cameras and two microphones on board.
Also participating in the mission is the Ingenuity explorer helicopter, the first human aircraft to fly over Mars.
His job will also be to search for signs of life on Mars and collect samples that NASA aspires to be able to rescue with a manned mission in at least a decade.
"Percy", as he is already nicknamed, has already pocketed astronomical exploration enthusiasts with the live broadcast of his landing, his first photographs of the planet's surface and the first audio ever heard from Mars. .
With Mars, the space race seems to be reissued, and in addition to the world powers, new players are coming into play today who promise to play Rosalinda: private companies. And more specifically SpaceX, from the aforementioned Elon Musk. Not only is this corporation already a contractor for NASA and a pioneer in space tourism, but it has its own plans both to travel to the neighboring planet, and to establish a human colony.
These are three extraordinary journeys that this generation is fortunate to witness, which go in parallel with the fourth permanent journey: that of the human mind dreaming of crossing new frontiers.