Race to Mars: Europe, China, and NASA Compete to Explore the Red Planet
Conquering Mars, also known as the Red Planet, is the latest objective of international space agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA) and China National Space Administration (CNSA). Because of its proximity to earth, Mars is the most plausible candidate for space exploration to mankind. It also exhibits some earthlike properties, leading experts to think that life may possibly thrive on the Red Planet. And because of that, ESA, NASA and CNSA are all working towards reaching Mars in the near future.
Because of their common interests, it can't be denied that there might be competition going on among the high profile space exploration agencies. NASA is set to launch their Journey to Mars in 2030, but have been working tirelessly on the expedition for years. According to NASA, their interest with the Red Planet stems from evidence that it may have been suitable for life in the past. And among all known planets, Mars is the most possible venue to cater to humans.
NASA is currently engaging their full resources to aid their astronauts in the 2030 expedition. They partnered with developers to make possible habitations in Mars, aerojet propulsions to make the journey and even studying identical astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly (Twin Study) to understand long-term effects of living in space on the human body. Currently, they are building an aerojet propulsion system which cost about $67 million.
Meanwhile, the military-led China National Space Administration also has their eyes on Mars. Although China is very discreet when it comes to the details of their preparations, they already announced that they are indeed working on their own Mars exploration program.
Wu Weiren, Head Designer of CNSA Lunar and Mars Mission in an interview with BBC said that CNSA's goal is to reach Mars by 2021. To manifest their capability to do so, Jade Rabbit, CNSA's lunar rover and lander, released public photos of the lunar surface, at par with NASA's high definition images. They wanted to be the first to fully scour the surface of Mars, and it looks like CNSA is well-equipped and capable of bringing their goal to reality.
But the Europeans will not get left behind, the European Space Agency together with the Russian Federal Space Agency in a joint mission, also announced their interest to reach the Red Planet. Their exploration is called ExoMars.
To be able to do this, they are developing the ExoMars Orbiter. According to the Albany Daily Star, ExoMars, an unmanned mission to the red planet will be tasked to "hunt for gases, like methane, that we associate with the presence of life on our own planet." This expedition is the first collaboration between ESA and Russian counterpart Roscosmos.
In the same report, Paolo Ferri, ESA's head of mission operations said the orbiter will analyze gases in the Martian atmosphere to fully understand its origins. In terms of funding, the ESA and the Russian counterpart Roscosmos allotted about 1.3 Billion Euros ($1.44 billion).
Because this expedition is unmanned, ExoMars have a distinctive purpose compared to the ones launched by NASA and CNSA. The same report said their rover will contain 10,000 pounds of gas-sniffing orbiter modules called "Schiaparelli". And because of the European and Russian background in space explorations, there's no doubt about the positive outcome of their mission as well.
With all the funding and science and technology looking to reach the same goal, is it safe to assume the three major Mars exploration projects are in opposition? Well, there's no proof in that. Daily Mail even reported that there's a possibility for NASA and CNSA to collaborate in the future.
As per ESA and Roscosmos, their mission to Mars is slightly different than the ones from NASA and ESA, thus there's no imminent conflict exhibited by parties involved. Instead of competition, the world of Science should rejoice because of the achievements of mankind in their efforts to reach the Red Planet. If any one of them succeeds, it will be a success for all mankind, regardless of which agency they belong to.