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We'll All Meet at Mars
Nozomi, the Japanese Space Mission to the Red Planet

By: John Shepler

The stillness of a Saturday morning is broken by a thundering in the distance. Moments later, a streak of light is seen making its way from the ground to the heavens. Slowly, then faster and faster. Soon, it flickers out in the distance and all is quiet again. Another star has joined the cosmos. This one is arcing away from earth toward the red planet Mars.

Mars the Red Planet gifts. Click for collection.This could be the view from any point near Cape Canaveral, but it is not. Our vantage point is on the other side of the world. We're standing in southern Japan. A four-stage M-5 rocket has just lifted off from the Kagoshima Space Center with that country's first interplanetary probe, the Planet-B, renamed Nozomi, or Hope, after liftoff. The hopes of the Japanese space scientists were that, after whipping around Earth twice to pick up speed, Nozomi would speed toward a successful Martian orbit in December of 2003. Sadly, the spacecraft ran out of manuevering fuel and was lost as it neared the Red Planet.

Hope was perhaps more of a symbolic name for this venture than might have been intended. Hope was riding on this flight for the Japanese to become established as key players in space exploration. But hope was also riding on this flight for Canada, Sweden, Germany and the United States. Each had provided instruments for the spacecraft, and the U.S. was also providing the deep space receivers to pick up the signals from Mars. Loss of the Nozomi spacecraft was a loss for all of us.

It is starting to creep into our consciousness that the space race has been reborn as a series of joint ventures and friendly competitions, with many countries as players. There has long been a viable business opportunity in launching commercial satellites for television. An even better opportunity is now developing for putting up the dozens and dozens of low orbiting satellites that will provide paging and telephone service around the world. The Russians have their Proton, the French have Ariane, the Chinese have Long March, the Japanese have M-5, and the United States has Atlas, Pegasus, Delta and the Shuttle. It's becoming a launch competition, where cost and availability are now deciding factors.

There is also a cooperation for bigger projects, where science rather than commercial gain is the driving force. Witness the International Space Station. It is the logical conclusion to a process that began when the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft hooked up in July of 1975. When American Astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts shook hands, the original space race was symbolically concluded. Since then, Russians have flown in the Shuttle and Americans have stayed on the Mir space station. More importantly, the light bulb has come on in many minds that sharing the costs of the multi-billion dollar projects is a lot more attractive than whatever prestige would be gained by paying for all of it yourself.

The latest trend is for someone to launch a probe and for everyone else to piggyback onboard. The missions to Mars are an excellent example. On the ill-fates United States' Mars Surveyor '98 program, the laser radar, called LIDAR, was provided by the Russian Space Research Institute. The Russians piggybacked on the American Mars lander. But, the USA piggybacked on the Russian LIDAR.

As the story goes, two American researchers thought it might be a good idea to include a microphone on the lander, as Mars does have an atmosphere which conducts sounds. Adding more weight, power consumption, size or cost to the mission was not acceptable, but the Russians offered to add the microphone to their instrument package and still meet requirements. With a request from the late Dr. Carl Sagan, NASA approved the idea. Unfortunately, the spacecraft was destoryed during the landing attempt, so we're not able to listen in to the surface of Mars...this time.

It is a most fitting tribute to this spirit of international cooperation that Nozomi was launched exactly one year from the day that Pathfinder, now dedicated as the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, landed on Mars, July 4, 1997. With more sharing on planetary missions in the works and construction of the International Space Station, it is appropriate to recognize this alliance among countries that multiplies our reach into the solar system and makes possible so much more than we can each accomplish by ourselves. Perhaps these affiliations are leading to a synergy that we've hoped for over the last half-century. One might even call it the United Nations of Space.


Books of Interest:

The Case for Mars, The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must by Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner. The Case for Mars is not a vision for the far future or one that will cost us impossible billions. It explains step-by-step how we can use present-day technology to send humans to Mars within ten years; actually produce fuel and oxygen on the planet's surface with Martian natural resources; how we can build bases and settlements; and how we can one day "terraform" Mars-a process that can alter the atmosphere of planets and pave the way for sustainable life.

The Adventures of Sojourner, The Mission to Mars That Thrilled the World by Susi Trautmann Wunsch and Susi Trautmann Wunsch. Tells the story of the mission that placed the Sojourner remote-control rover on Mars on July 4, 1997.


Also visit these related sites:

Nozomi Mission - NASA page with details of the mission and a picture of the spacecraft.

Red Planet Triumphs and Defeats - A history of missions to Mars, courtesy of Space.com

NASA's Current Mars Missions - A concise listing of the latest robotic missions.

Send Your Name to Mars - NASA invites you to add your name to the collection being sent to Mars on the next rover mission scheduled for 2020. Get your custom boarding pass now, until September 30, 2019. It's the next best thing to actually going there!

Mars the Red Planet Collection - The red planet has always been an object of mystery in the night sky. These designs celebrate our nearest planetary neighbor in the Solar System and the science & space exploration related to Mars.

Historic Apollo 11 Moon Mission - Souvenir buttons, stickers, t-shirts and more celebrating the 50th anniversary of this one small step that changed the world for all of us.


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