In this file photo taken on July 05, 2020 an employee works at the control room of the Mars Mission at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in the Gulf city of Dubai. - The oil-rich United Arab Emirates has built a nuclear power programme and sent a man to space, and now plans to join another elite club by sending a probe to Mars. Picture: GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP
In this file photo taken on July 05, 2020 an employee works at the control room of the Mars Mission at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in the Gulf city of Dubai. - The oil-rich United Arab Emirates has built a nuclear power programme and sent a man to space, and now plans to join another elite club by sending a probe to Mars. Picture: GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

When you’ve got troubles, nothing beats stepping back and getting a long-range perspective. In this case, from millions of  kilometres away.

This month three countries plan to send probes to explore Mars, the opening salvo in a space race to the red planet that looks as if it will continue for years to come. The Hope Probe — a project of the United Arab Emirates and the first effort of an Arab nation to visit another planet — is scheduled for launch on July 15.

China’s Tianwen-1 goes next, some time between July 20 and July 25. It will be that country’s first visit to the planet.

The US, after several delays, plans its launch for July 30, its fifth mission to Mars. Russia and the EU are expected to join this new Mars explorers’ club in a couple of years. India and Japan are planning trips after that.

Mars beckons in part because it could answer a big question: are humans alone in the universe? Over its history the planet has shown intriguing potential for life, including, at least at one time, the presence of water. If any life has existed there, how likely then is the possibility for life anywhere in a universe filled with uncounted planets?

Mars has long been a fascination — and an intriguing distraction — for humanity. But even as telescopic views improved, astronomers’ frustration grew: if only they could get a closer, better look. That finally happened in the last half-century as space probes began plunking the Martian surface, sending back data, including photos.

The car-sized US rover Curiosity — named by then 12-year-old Clara Ma after a national essay competition — has been wandering the planet since 2012, and continues to explore it.

The recent flurry of exploration sets the stage for the ultimate Mars endeavour: putting humans on the red planet. That goal remains a couple of decades away at least, US researchers say. But a visit to the moon by humans once seemed unthinkable. Now Mars is coming ever closer in thought. /Boston, July 10

Christian Science Monitor

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