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Mars: The Conversation Weekly podcast explores why three missions are about to reach the red planet

Artist illustration of NASA rover landing on Mars.
An artist’s illustration of the aeroshell containing NASA’s Perseverance rover guiding itself towards the surface of Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Welcome to the first episode of The Conversation Weekly, a new podcast from The Conversation’s global network.

In this episode, we find out why February 2021 is such a big month for Mars. Three different missions from three different countries – the United Arab Emirates, China and the U.S. – are due to arrive at the red planet within a few weeks of each other.

We talk to Jim Bell, Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, who is leading one of the camera teams for NASA’s Perseverance Rover. He explains how these missions are looking for signs of ancient life – and where the scientists will start their search.

Steffi Paladini, Reader in Economics and Global Security at Birmingham City University, sheds light on some of the political motivations behind China’s ambitious Mars mission, Tianwen-1, which includes an orbiter, lander and rover. You can read more about the Chinese space race here.

And Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Astrophysics at the American University of Sharjah explains the symbolism of the UAE’s Hope mission and what it’s trying to achieve.

In our second story, we turn to Belarus, where protests continue more than six months after a disputed election. Félix Krawatzek, Senior Researcher at the Centre for East European and International Studies and Associate Member of Nuffield College, University of Oxford, talks through the initial findings from a recent public opinion survey in Belarus – and why he sees similarities between what happened in Belarus and the protests currently rocking Russia following the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Read more about the survey data here.

And we finish with some reading recommendations from Ina Skosana, health and medicine editor in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Conversation Weekly is produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens and music by Neeta Sarl.

News clips in this episode from BBC News, CCTV, Nasa, Euronews, the Embassy of the UAE - Washington, ABC News, AFP News Agency, Al Jazeera English, DW News, France 24 and Global News.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

You can also listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

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