The DownlinkFeb 19, 2021

The next era of Mars exploration is here!

Space Snapshot

Hope first picture of mars

The United Arab Emirates' Hope spacecraft captured this image of Mars as it arrived in orbit. Hope is one of the 3 new missions now operating at Mars; the spacecraft will build a complete picture of Mars’ climate. Image credit: MBRSC

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

There are 8 spacecraft orbiting Mars right now, sent there by 6 different space agencies from around the world. China will become the second-ever country to land a rover on Mars if Tianwen-1’s descent to the surface later this year is successful.

Mission Briefings

Perseverance first picture from mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover arrived safely on Mars. The spectacular landing marks the third and final Mars arrival for three new missions launched last year. Preceding Perseverance were the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe and China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover. Perseverance will search for signs of past life and collect samples for future return to Earth. Pictured: Perseverance sent this first image back to Earth shortly after landing on 18 February 2021. Image credit: NASA/JPL.


InSight will hunker down as Mars reaches the farthest point in its orbit from the Sun. Less sunlight means less energy for NASA’s solar-powered lander, which has also acquired a thick coat of Martian dust. The lack of sunlight prompted mission managers to turn off non-essential functions like the lander’s weather monitoring station. Learn more about the mission.


An uncrewed Russian Progress cargo spacecraft carrying water and propellant arrived at the International Space Station. The vehicle will remain at the station until later this year. When it undocks, Progress will take its docking port with it, creating an open slot for a Russian science module called Nauka that will arrive afterwards. Learn more about the ISS.

From The Planetary Society

Bill planetfest celebration
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Thank you for making Planetfest ’21 a great success! Last weekend over 1,500 people joined us for a 2-day celebration of Mars and the adventure of space exploration. 61 experts shared their insights in 21 sessions, and participants enhanced each others’ learning experiences by sharing more than 2,700 messages in the conference’s community forum. We are also very grateful to have raised a whopping $27,700 in the Beyond the Horizon fundraising gala. The festivities climaxed with our Perseverance landing party on 18 February, featuring commentary by Bill Nye, Planetary Society President Bethany Ehlmann, Veritasium’s Derek Muller, and “The Space Geologist” Raquel Nuno. Bill also announced the Society's exciting new partnership with MOVA Globes to create an exclusive globe depicting Enceladus and an official Planetary Society Collection of moons, with proceeds benefiting our mission and programs. To all of you who joined us for all or part of Planetfest ’21, thank you!

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If you missed Planetfest ’21, don’t worry! You can watch recordings of each session on our YouTube page. Plus, listen to this week’s Planetary Radio to hear host Mat Kaplan’s conversations with Andy Weir, author of The Martian, Omran Sharaf, the leader of the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission, and journalist Andrew Jones, who reports on China’s space program.

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Two new articles explore the search for life beyond Earth. Is there life on Mars? This age-old question doesn’t have an answer yet, but we’ve learned a lot in seeking to answer it. Learn more about the possibilities. Looking further afield, contributing editor Jatan Mehta explores whether the worlds around red dwarf stars might be good places to look for life.

What's Up

Mars illustration

Look for reddish Mars near the Moon in the evening sky. To its left is the reddish star Aldebaran, and between the two you may be able to spot the Pleiades star cluster. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Planetfest cupcakes

We got a lot of great photos from Planetfest ’21 attendees, but this one takes the cake. Planetfest attendee Jennifer Gundlach sent us this picture of delicious-looking cupcakes prepared in celebration of the weekend’s festivities by SusieCakes bakery in Newport Beach, California. Find more photos from our Mars celebration by searching the hashtag #planetfest21 on social media.

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.