The question of whether there is life on Mars has been around since long before David Bowie asked.
Missions to Mars have occurred since the 1970s. There are two active Nasa craft on the Red Planet and a handful of satellites orbit it from the US, European Space Agency, and India.
Now there is a fleet of spacecraft aiming to join the party. The United States, China and the United Arab Emirates are launching investigative missions.
They have until mid-August to blast off or wait another two years until the Earth and Mars are in alignment.
The spate of space exploration is aimed at finally answering whether there is, or at least was, life. It has been 20 years since the discovery that water once flowed there.
Scientists believe both Mars and Earth had the ability to sustain life four billion years ago. Professor Ray Arvidson, of Washington University, told the Observer: "Mars was warm and wet. Now we are going to find out if those conditions led to the evolution of life on Mars, just as they did on Earth, and to see if some of that life still persists underground."
This morning, a previously weather-delayed UAE mission is due to blast off on a Japanese H-2A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Centre – a first inter-planetary voyage for an Arab nation.
The Emirates Mars Mission will study the atmosphere of Mars, collecting data to form the basis of the planet's first weather map. Hope, as the spacecraft is called, will focus on clouds, dust storms, and gases.
The US project plans to add another rover to Mars alongside Nasa's Curiosity. Nasa's Opportunity and Spirit are out of action. The lander InSight is also there.
The new rover, Perseverance, is expected to be launched late this month or early August in the first phase of a multi-year project and will be dropped into Jezero Crater next February to assess rocks, collect samples and seek signs of ancient life.
Attached to its belly is a 1.8kg solar-powered robotic device called Ingenuity that acts like a small helicopter. It will try to prove that flights are possible.
Perseverance's samples will be left to be collected by a future rover, potentially to be brought to Earth by rocket.
The Tianwen-1 Chinese spacecraft includes a satellite, a lander, and a rover to explore Mars for water, and ice. China has previously landed spacecraft and robot rovers on the Moon. The current departure date is July 23.
The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to ExoMars, a European and Russian venture, launching as well.
Perseverance includes an eight by 13cm plate to honour medical workers dealing with the coronavirus. It shows Earth on the medical symbol of a staff entwined with a serpent.
As a pandemic exposes human frailty, space exploration can be a positive – if expensive - reminder we are capable of daring vision and technology. It represents an expansive outlook when our world has shrunk and our lives besieged.
It may help lighten a dark year, but we will have to be patient. The results from these voyages will not be with us for years.