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Much of the Space Age has been driven by global politics. In the early days, the United States and the Soviet Union raced to send the first person to space, to send probes to the planets, and to land men on the Moon. Things began to change in the 1970s, when American and Soviet spacecraft linked up in orbit.

Yet geopolitics continues to play a role in space exploration. An example is a mission known as ExoMars, a joint project of Russia and Europe. Its launch was delayed a couple of years by Covid. Its new launch window opened this week.

But earlier this year, Europe split from Russia on ExoMars and other space projects — a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That could delay the launch until 2028 or later.

ExoMars consists of two parts — a landing platform and the Rosalind Franklin rover. Russia was providing the lander and the booster rocket, and Europe built the rover.

The planned landing site was Oxia Planum — a smooth plain that might once have held liquid water. The rover would analyze the rocks and dirt to try to figure out when the water was there, how much was there, and how it affected the formation of minerals on the surface. The goal was to figure out if the region might once have been suitable for life.

The European Space Agency has said it’ll try to find another partner to build the lander and provide the launch. But that’ll take time — a lengthy delay in space caused by a war here on Earth.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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