Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

There are numbers of nations that have Mars in their sights for robotic exploration. So many, in fact, is it time to better coordinate those efforts to enhance the opportunity for eventual human exploration of the Red Planet?

The idea of an International Year of Mars (IYM) is anchored in history.

Information sharing

Retro-fire to the past when a comprehensive series of global geophysical activities spanned the period: July 1957-December 1958. The objective was to share information acquired by participating scientists all over the world.

That undertaking was labeled the International Geophysical Year, or IGY for short. The IGY embraced a number of Earth sciences with new cooperative efforts forged between nations – some still alive and well in the 21st century.

Credit: National Academy of ScienceS

Credit: National Academy of Sciences

The timing of the IGY also saw both the former Soviet Union and the United States loft their first artificial satellites of the Earth.

That was then…now fast forward to the future.

Joining forces

Collaborations between Europe, Russia, China, India, for example, along with the United States and other spacefaring nations, are likely to join forces to stage a human reach for the Red Planet.

Similarly, public/private contributions may well be in the cards too.

UAE's Hope Mars orbiter. Credit: UAE Space Agency

UAE’s Hope Mars orbiter.
Credit: UAE Space Agency

 

For example, consider these plans:

China: Chinese space officials have plans to send a rover to the Red Planet as early as 2020, a mission that could also collect samples of Mars for return to Earth around 2030.

Europe: An aggressive Mars plan is underway by the European Space Agency (ESA), tagged ExoMars. Their initiative includes a stylish rover to land on Mars in 2020. ExoMars 2020 also includes a Russian-provided surface platform replete with science experiments.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) and Chairman K. Radhakrishnan of the Indian Space Research Organisation signing documents in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2014 that included establishing a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars. Credit: NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) and Chairman K. Radhakrishnan of the Indian Space Research Organisation signing documents in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2014 that included establishing a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars.
Credit: NASA

Europe's ExoMars 2020 rover. Credit: ESA

Europe’s ExoMars 2020 rover.
Credit: ESA

India: That country’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), named Mangalyaan, swung into orbit around the planet in September 2014. A NASA-Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Mars Working Group has been formed to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration.

Japan: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is considering a go-ahead for a sample return mission involving one of Mars’ two moons — Phobos and Deimos. A selected moon is to be targeted for a landing in the early 2020s.

United Arab Emirates: The Islamic world’s entrance into space exploration, this UAE Mars orbiter would be launched in 2020 by Japan to search for connections between today’s weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL

United States: Following the 2018 launch of the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander, NASA also is set to loft the Mars 2020 rover. Additionally, studies are underway to hurl to the Red Planet a multi-functional next-generation Mars Orbiter.

SpaceX Dragon on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX: Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, has openly discussed plans to land an unpiloted Dragon spacecraft on Mars as soon as 2018, to help “inform overall Mars architecture” with “details to come.”

Scientific and technological savvy

Given this rising global appetite for Mars exploration, is the time ripe for a coordinated, collaborative International Year of Mars – or perhaps an International Mars Year (IMY)?

By tapping the scientific and technological savvy of a cadre of countries and American private-sector muscle could this melding of capability provide the needed momentum to hasten the day of humans firmly setting foot on the Red Planet?

Your thoughts?

— Leonard David

Credit: Dan Durda

Credit: Dan Durda

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