Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The newest missions to Mars are about life on Earth as much as they're about science on the Red Planet.

Why it matters: The United Arab Emirates and China, which each have missions arriving at Mars this week, have tied geopolitical and national ambitions to their Martian endeavors.

  • Space exploration has always been political, but these missions are being used to demonstrate the countries' technical know-how and prowess far from Earth's orbit.

What’s happening: The UAE’s Hope probe made it into orbit around Mars this morning, and China’s Tianwen-1 is expected to do the same at the Red Planet on Wednesday.

  • China’s mission is also expected to release a rover down to the surface of the planet in the coming months, making it one of the most ambitious first-time Mars missions for any nation yet.
  • The UAE is now the fifth nation or space agency to operate a spacecraft at Mars.

Between the lines: Both China and the UAE are driven by desires to be regional leaders when it comes to space, furthering national ambition and pride in the process.

  • The UAE began its space program in part as a way to create a technical and young workforce that will also help inspire others in the Middle East to enter science and engineering.
  • And the UAE chose Mars in part because of its difficulty.
  • "If you want to stimulate growth really rapidly, and you want to enable an entire generation to develop their skills and capacity and capability at a rapid manner, you need to take on large risks," Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, told Axios. "You wouldn't get there with something that's more guaranteed."

China, on the other hand, is already a leader in space, with a human exploration program, a future space station and ambitious robotic missions to the Moon.

  • "There is a piece of this that is prestige, but it's not about space — it is about doing real science," the Heritage Foundation's Dean Cheng told Axios.

The big picture: These missions are starting to paint a new picture of space ambitions where soft power and influence and a demonstration of technological prowess are far more important than a specific race between nations — as it was between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

  • For its part, China initially took a relatively traditional path to the Red Planet. The nation's first attempt to make it to Mars — in 2011 — was part of a collaborative mission with Russia.
  • That mission didn't succeed, but China continued on with its space program, pushing to prove out technology at the Moon and then make it to Mars with not only an orbiter but a rover as well.
  • "If China is able to successfully land on Mars, its first time out, that's actually a pretty good track record, relative to everybody else's first time efforts," Cheng said. "The Chinese are very big on their firsts being bigger, longer, heavier."

The intrigue: The UAE didn't first send a mission to the Moon or import technology wholesale for its Hope probe.

  • Instead, the country focused on building technical knowledge at home that can then be applied elsewhere on Earth, in the tech sector.
  • In total, 200 of the 450 people who worked on the UAE's Mars mission are Emiratis at the space center, and the nation's private space industry is emerging.

The bottom line: Scientifically successful or not, these ambitious missions are revealing how much more accessible space is to those nations that are willing to go there.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Hope probe is now in orbit around Mars.

Go deeper

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight, hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts on Wednesday.

The big picture: Officials in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley issued air quality alerts as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptotic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.