The DownlinkFeb 12, 2021

All eyes on Mars

Space Snapshot

Mro collage

This week Mars is in the spotlight. Two new missions have arrived into orbit, with another quickly approaching, and the planet itself takes center stage in the night sky. It’s only fitting that we couldn’t choose just one image to celebrate the beauty of our neighboring world. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured all of these stunning images of the Red Planet (although in these false-color images it sometimes looks a little bluer). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Mars gets its name(s) from its color. "Mars" is the name of the Roman god of war, chosen for the planet because of its blood-red color. Other languages have names for Mars that refer to its color as well, such as its Chinese name which means “fire star.”

Mission Briefings

Burj khalifa red

Two new missions successfully arrived at Mars, bringing the number of active missions there to 10. The UAE’s Hope probe entered orbit on 9 February, while China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover arrived a day later. Tianwen-1’s rover is still attached and will not land until May or June. Each of these arrivals marks their country’s first successful mission to Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover will be next to arrive, on 18 February 2021. Our arrival guide has all the details. Pictured: Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, was lit red to celebrate Hope’s arrival at Mars. Image credit: AFP.


NASA announced the lander for PlanetVac’s Moon flight. PlanetVac is a sample collection technology funded in part by Planetary Society members and donors. Last year, NASA announced PlanetVac would join 10 other science and technology demonstrations on a 2023 Moon mission. The agency now says the lander will be Blue Ghost, built by Firefly Aerospace. Although Firefly also builds rockets, this flight will apparently take place using another rocket that has yet to be determined.


NASA and the space agencies of Italy, Canada, and Japan are considering a joint Mars mission to map water ice. The International Mars Ice Mapper, or I-MIM, would create detailed global maps showing the depth and location of water ice beneath Mars’ surface. The information would help scientists learn about the Red Planet’s past and select landing sites for future human exploration missions. If approved, I-MIM could launch as soon as 2026.


NASA plans to launch its Europa Clipper spacecraft aboard a commercial rocket in October 2024. The news, which came out during a meeting of outer planets scientists, frees the mission from a requirement to use NASA's Space Launch System. A 2024 launch would put Europa Clipper on course to arrive at Jupiter in 2030.


The European Space Agency will soon accept applications for new astronauts. The window to apply runs from 31 March to 28 May 2021. It’s the first time ESA has accepted new applications in 11 years; the space agency says it will place a high emphasis on diversifying its astronaut corps.

small bodies

NASA’s Psyche mission, which will explore a metal asteroid of the same name, has moved into the final phase of launch preparations. The mission launches in August 2022. Psyche may be the exposed core of an ancient protoplanet. Studying it will provide insight into our solar system’s history and teach us more about asteroids, comets, and other small worlds.

From The Planetary Society

Open letter president biden
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The Planetary Society has announced a set of space policy recommendations for the Biden administration. The recommendations are to deepen the United States’ commitment to NASA’s science programs; continue human spaceflight on the path from the Moon to Mars; take active steps to protect the planet from dangerous asteroids and comets; use NASA as a tool to grow the U.S. economy, enhance its manufacturing base, nurture its skilled workforce, and strengthen international alliances; and implement annual 5% increases to NASA’s budget over the next five years. Watch and share this video outlining the recommendations, and learn more about each one in the complete report.

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Dive deeper into space policy with Planetary Radio. On the latest episode of our monthly Space Policy Edition, guest Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science discusses how the U.S. government funds basic science, where the money goes, and the consequences of budget cuts to critical science investments. On the weekly show, Planetary Society Chief Advocate and Senior Space Policy Adviser Casey Dreier unpacks our recommendations to the Biden administration. Plus, we talk with author Marc Hartzman about his new book documenting humanity’s longtime obsession with Mars.

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Passionate about space? Speak up for it! Our annual Day of Action is coming up on 31 March. U.S. residents are invited to join this virtual event to speak with your representatives in Congress about the importance of investing in space science and exploration. Those of you who live outside the United States can take action as well by sharing key talking points in your communities and to your own leaders in government. Keep an eye on our Day of Action page for more details in the coming weeks.

What's Up

Mars illustration

Mars is the lone planet in the evening sky this week, shining reddish alongside the reddish star Aldebaran. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Cosmos vs chaos

Planetary Society member Martin Eichinger created this piece called “Cosmos Vs Chaos” using poured epoxy resin. Each of the polymers is a translucent composition layered over the previous to create a totality that allows the background light or scene to become part of the composition. “I have been blessed with both concepts and images as a member of the Planetary Society,” says Eichinger. “Thanks for the inspirations!” Take a look at the rest of the space-inspired pieces in Eichinger’s Clair Collection.

Do you have a suggestion for the Wow of the Week? We’re looking for space-related art, music, gadgets, quotes, fashion, burning questions, brief sci-fi passages, or anything else that will make our readers go “Wow!” Send us your idea by replying to any Downlink email or writing to [email protected], and please let us know if you’re a Planetary Society member.