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