After a series of successful spaces missions last year 2021 promises some exciting new international research projects.
Three countries have launched spacecraft designed to begin exploring Mars in 2021.
The US space agency NASA expects its researcher, called Persistence, to land on the Red Planet on February 18. The explorer or rover is on a mission to “look for signs of life and collect rocks and soil samples“NASA says.
Persistence is NASA’s fifth Mars explorer. It carries a small experimental helicopter called Ingenuity. The device will be the first to test the capabilities of such a craft on another planet. An important experiment will test a device designed to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Mars and convert it into oxygen.
Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 launched a search mission to Mars last July for signs of water. It is also expected to reach Mars in February. The spacecraft will try to land in Utopia Planitia, a large flat area in the northern half of the planet. Once there, Tianwen-1 will deploy a rover for exploration.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched its “Hope” Probe in July 2020, the researcher will also reach the Red Planet next month. The country describes Hope as “the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers. “
The mission will study climate and meteorological activity in the lower atmosphere of Mars. Hope will also monitor and study hydrogen and oxygen in Mars’ upper atmosphere, the UAE space agency said.
Testing of new space vehicles is forthcoming
Boeing is expected to perform another unmanned flight test on its Starliner spacecraft. The company was selected by NASA – along with the American SpaceX – for its commercial crew program. The program uses private spacecraft to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has already completed two successful missions with an ISS crew.
If Boeing’s unmanned test runs well, the company is expected to move forward with its first Starliner test flight with a crew.
NASA has said it plans to complete final preparations for the first flight of its Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft for a possible launch sometime in the fall. The flight will be the first unmanned test flight for SLS and Orion. The goal is to complete a one-month mission around the moon.
The test is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. The long-term goal of the program is to establish a continuing human presence on the moon.
NASA tests planetary defense
In late July, NASA said it would launch its first “planetary defense test” against asteroids. The mission is called the Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). It will send a spaceship that deliberately crashes into a high-speed asteroid in an attempt to change the asteroid’s orbit in space. The target is an asteroid close to Earth called Didymos. The operation will only be a defense test abilityas Didymos does not pose a threat to the Earth.
NASA plans to launch its Lucy space mission in October. The operation aims to study a population of unusual objects orbiting Jupiter known as Trojan asteroids. The space agency says the mission will include a 12-year journey to eight different asteroids.
Also in October, NASA plans to launch its James Webb Space Telescope, which has been delayed several times. This is NASA’s replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in operation for 30 years.
James Webb is a large infrared telescope that is nearly seven meters long mirror for space observation. NASA says the mission is designed to look deeper into space and offer more answers about the universe’s past than any other spacecraft.
I’m Brian Lynn.
Brian Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and NASA. Mario Ritter Jr. was an editor.
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Words in this story
mission – n. a spacecraft flight to perform a specific task or job
sample – n. a small amount of something that gives information about what it is taken from
probe – n. a vehicle used to examine or observe something closely
layer – n. level of something spread over an area
asteroid – n. small planets or cosmic rocks orbiting the sun
ability – n. the ability to do a particular job or task
mirror – n. a piece of glass that reflects light or images