Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Rovers To Be Launched to Mars When It Nears Earth

This will be the shortest distance between the two planets over 73,000 years

55,758,006 kilometers or 34,646,418 miles. This is the distance, at which planet Mars is to approach Earth on August 27th. This will be the shortest distance between the two planets over 73,000 years. The Earth was inhabited by Neanderthal people so many years ago.

August 27th will be the day when modern people will launch spacecraft to explore the mysterious red planet. Two American and one European rovers will be launched towards Mars. This will be the first trip to Mars for Europe. Carrier-rocket will blast off from the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome on June 2nd. The rocket will deliver orbital spacecraft Mars Express and Beagle-2 rover. The trip will last for about six months and will be over on December 26th, when the spacecraft orbits Mars. The orbital hardware will observe the Mars's surface, and the exploration rover will take Martian soil samples and search for living beings there (not green aliens are meant here, of course, but microorganisms).

The launch of the European hardware was originally supposed to take place on May 23rd. However, the flight was adjourned after technical defects had been found in one of the modules of the orbital spacecraft.

If no emergency occurs, the USA will launch its Martian hardware three days later, on June 5th - Mars Explorer Rover A and Mars Explorer Rover В. The American schedule is not strictly observed either: Rover A should have been launched on May 30th, but the event had to be delayed for a week due to a malfunction as well. The second rover is to be launched on June 25th.

Russia will not have its own hardware in these major Martian exploration events - it is too expensive for Russia. The crash of the Russian Mars-96 space vehicle has put an end to the Russian program  to conquer the red planet; Russia has not recovered from that breakdown yet. There have been certain attempts made to explore Mars's satellite Phobos, but they have not brought any results yet. Russian space scientists are currently working on a manned flight to Mars, although the country does not even think to do this alone. Russia is going to cooperate with Europe and the USA in this respect. The cooperation with America has not been fruitful recently, but it seems that problems are passing by, so the active collaboration with NASA is about to be resumed. In addition to that, on My 5th Russia and the USA signed an agreement about the joint exploration of the red planet.

It is not known yet, in which form this cooperation will be implemented. NASA and the Russian Space Agency cooperated for ten years before, working on a joint Mars exploration project. It was supposed that an American spacecraft would be launched on a Russian carrier rocket with Russian rovers on board. This cooperation was stopped on account of Russia's money shortage. However, the Russian hardware will be installed on one of American Martian rovers that is expected to travel to Mars in the nearest future.

The cooperation between Russia and the European Space Agency is a lot better. Igor Mitrofanov from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences said that the Mars Express scientific program was actually a copy of the Russian crashed Mars-96 program. "This will virtually be a relaunch of Mars-96. The decision about this project was made in 1997, Russian and European specialists had been preparing to the launch all that time. However, Europe is going to be responsible for the mission this time - this is the only difference," Mitrofanov said.

Of course, it is pitiful that Russia is not going to launch its space vehicle to explore the red planet. On the other hand, there is nothing tragic about it. "It does not play an important role. It goes without saying that a closer distance between the two planets is a great advantage for the space exploration, but Earth and Mars approach each other every 26 months, which is fairly enough. NASA plans its launches for every of such approaches - they launched spacecraft in 1995, 1999 and in 2001," Igor Mitrofanov said.

Vladimir Pokrovsky
Nezavisimaya Gazeta