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2020 in space exploration: A year of firsts that shook up the global space order

By The Week

While a virus stopped the earth in its tracks for several weeks this year, it could not curb the thirst for exploring different worlds.

The year saw a record three near-simultaneous probes to Mars being launched this summer, all of them taking advantage of that brief window period when the two planets are closest to each other, thus shortening the journey. They will all reach the red planet in February 2021.

Each mission is remarkable in its own way. China’s Tianwen-1 comprises an orbiter, lander and rover and hopes to be the Asian giant’s first successful Martian rendezvous. The US, no stranger to Mars, has sent its Perseverance probe, a lander, and also the Ingenuity unmanned helicopter (which got its name from Indian-origin student Vaneeza Rupani).

The probe hopes to collect a sample for a future return mission to earth, and the helicopter is the first attempt at powered flight outside of earth. Even the UAE, a newcomer to explorations, has sent its Hope probe, an orbiter, launched from Japan. Though low on scientific scope as compared to the other two missions, this one announces the debut of a new player in space, and if successful with an orbital entry, would be a historical feat.

So far, India holds the record for being the only country to have a successful first mission to Mars with its Mars Orbital Mission, which reached the Martian orbit in 2014, still operational.

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