Mars is also called the red planet and is one of the most captivating planets humans have ever discovered. So, it’s no surprise why this planet became one of the popular sources of inspiration for Sci-Fi stories. Robots, including more than three NASA Mars rovers with incredible instruments, were launched to the red planet, which will teach humans about what it is like on the Martian surface.
A past NASA’s Mars exploration rover mission with a lander may help the future missions to the planet and see other valuable pieces of evidence and image. Every NASA rover mission played a critical part in exploring ancient Mars.
The mission of exploring Mars with rovers makes it possible for us, in addition to scientific progress and getting to know the red planet, to get our reality at least a little closer to that of science fiction movies and series.
That is why it is necessary to support as many such missions as possible because this is an opportunity for the entire planet Earth to progress.
We need to outfit astronauts and spacecraft with technologies, so they can get there, explore the ancient Martian surface, and then safely come back home the same way with Spirit, Opportunity, and other NASA JPL Caltech rovers. It would take about two years to complete a roundtrip mission, which includes transit time from and back to Earth and on the Martian surface.
Technology development for NASA’s Mars exploration rover and other agencies’ rovers have brought a Mars mission as early as the 1970s and found numerous shreds of evidence of activities in Mars. These solar-powered Mars rovers with lander have been dispatched to the red planet to help us make Sci-Fi a reality, including:
Mars 2, Prop-M rover (1971)
Mars 2 was an unmanned space probe whose landing failed, and this led to taking the Prop-M, a small rover, with it. The Soviet Union’s Mars 2 and 3 had identical 4.5 kilograms Prop-M rovers. While these Mars exploration rovers with quality instruments are being connected to the landers along with cables, they moved on skis.
Mars 3, Prop-M rover (1971)
Mars 3 was the twin spacecraft of Mars 2 and was launched nine days later. The Prop-M rover was lost when the Mars 3 lander has stopped its communication about 20 seconds after its landing.
On July 4, 1997, a Mars rover with a lander called Sojourner landed successfully to the red planet. However, this Mars Pathfinder stopped communicating and providing evidence like images of rock and terraces and data on September 27, 1997.
Spirit is a Mars Exploration Rover that was launched on June 10, 2003. The Mars exploration rover Spirit landed on Mars on January 2, 2004, in the Gusev crater site. After the original mission limit of approximately six years, MER Spirit successfully covered a total distance of 4.80 miles (7.73 kilometers) near the Gusev crater.
However, the Mars Rover wheels were trapped in Gusev crater sand. On March 22, 2010, NASA received the rover’s last communication. NASA attempted re-establishing contact on March 25, 2011.
Another Mars Exploration Rover called Opportunity and was launched on July 7, 2003. The solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity landed on January 25, 2004.
This NASA’s Mars rover mission with lander surpassed the previous longevity records at 5,352 sols, which is equivalent to 5,493 Earth days from landing to the end of the mission. The rover covered a distance of 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers). When the Mars dust storm blocked the sunlight in 2018, which is necessary for recharging its batteries, Opportunity sent its last status on June 10, 2018. Credit NASA JPL Caltech attempted to reactivate the Mars rover hundreds of times and declared that the mission was completed on February 13, 2019.
NASA Mars Science Laboratory has launched a Mars rover called Curiosity on November 26, 2011. NASA’s Mars rover landed at the Aeolis Palus plain in Gale Crater site on August 6, 2012. As of January 2021, the Curiosity rover is still operational and provides images of terraces, bodies of water and rock, evidence and data of ancient water, and other forms near the landing sites.
A Star-Like Object that Captivated Humans
Since humans first set their eyes to the star-like object in the beautiful night sky. The reddish hue of Mars is what sets it apart from other planets in the solar system.
In the 1800s, the full intriguing features, data, and evidence like past landforms and patterns were revealed by a telescope. These features and evidence like images of water, rock, or benches were wrongly ascribed by the space scientists as an active Martian civilization.
Since the 1960s, humans became eager to discover what Mars could teach humankind how planets evolve and grow. Besides, humans also have set out to figure out as to whether ancient Mars has ever hosted an alien life because of past water activity and rock formation clues or not.
Only a few spacecraft missions like Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Insight, and other rovers without a crew have successfully made a trip to Mars. However, NASA JPL Caltech hopes to land the first humans on Mars by the 2030s time frame. In fact, more than three new missions were launched before then to push another set of rover explorations.
Why Mars Exploration Rover Is So Important
Just after Earth, Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. While this planet’s size is smaller than Earth’s size, its land area is almost equivalent to the Earth’s continents surface area.
Everything humans have learned about this planet suggests that it was once capable of hosting ecosystems and even an incubator for microbial life over the last century. While liquid water does exist on this planet, it is buried beneath the Martian surface and locked into the icy polar caps.
Today, scientists found more than three features on the Martian surface. These are deltas, basins, river valleys, and branching streams. Scientists suggest that Mars may use to have a huge ocean that covers the Northern Hemisphere with those past observations.
With the help of past solar-powered Mars exploration rovers with amazing instruments, scientists discover and learn about different momentous shifts in climate. These shifts could, in essence, change planets. Besides, past Mars exploration rovers’ missions also helped space scientists look for evidence like images of terrain, rock, water, or benches that answer as to whether an abundant life once existed in the planet’s past or still exists today.
The more research rovers, such as NASA’s explorations missions, people send to Mars, and learn about the ancient red planet, the better we get a closer step to Sci-Fi reality and are equipped to attempt making a living there in the future.
Major Discoveries From Rover Past Missions
During the 1960s, humans have successfully sent several spacecraft to study Mars. Flybys were sent in the early missions, and spacecraft snapped photos. NASA’s Mars probes were pulled mars surrounding orbit later on. More recently, NASA rovers and landers touched down on the Martian surface.
While sending a spacecraft mission to the planet, landing on it is even harder. The Martian’s atmosphere is thin, which makes it tricky. In fact, over 60% of landing mission attempts have failed.
Four space agencies, including NASA JPL Caltech, have put spacecraft in the planet’s orbit. The US is the only country with craft operations on the Martian surface with eight successful landings. Meanwhile, China and UAE could join them if their recently launched Tianwen-1 and Hope missions could reach Mars safely in February 2021.
NASA’s Mars Mariner 4 spacecraft is one of the early Mars missions highlights. This past solar-powered Mars rover landed on the planet in July 1965 and then captured the first close-up images of a Mars-like heat shield near the landing site.
The Soviet space program sent Mars 3, a spacecraft, into the planet’s orbit. After almost eight months of observations on the planet’s geology, weather, atmosphere, and topography near the landing site, the spacecraft returned.
NASA’s Mars Viking 1 and 2 were the first spacecraft to perform an operation on the Martian surface in 1976. In 1982, the spacecraft returned images and conducted several biological experiments on the soil near the landing site before their solar panels were covered with dust. However, the scientists disagree over how to interpret the past data from the inclusive inconclusive results.
NASA JPL Caltech launched the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1996 to put the first free-moving rover on Mars, called Sojourner. Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity were its successors that explored Mars.
The Mars Opportunity rover landed on Meridiani Planum, which is a flat plain and possibly a former lake. Additionally, Meridiani Planum comes with a huge diversity of rocks.
The mars exploration rover Spirit and Opportunity returned over 100,000 images close to the Gusev crater landing site before their solar panels were obliterated by dust storms in the 2010s.
Today, InSight and Curiosity rovers are the two active spacecraft sent by NASA on the Martian surface. Insight probes the Martian interior and revealed that the marsquakes habitually rattle the Martian surface. In 2012, the Curiosity rover was launched and continuously wheeling around the Gale Crater and provide valuable images within a day.
The NASA JPL Caltech Curiosity rover also take selfies and studies the sediments and rocks in the ancient lakebed of the crater site. In February 2013, NASA showed the Mars rover’s self-portrait image. This self-portrait by the NASA Curiosity rover could help scientists to get additional data on Mars.
These missions helped the scientists to discover that Mars is rich in elements necessary for life, including rock formation, energy source, organic carbon, and liquid water. These life ingredients made humans even curious if life once existed and still around Mars.
Mars and Future Explorations
Earth and Mars are known to align once every 26 months in a way that minimizes travel expenses and times. That enables a spacecraft to have an interplanetary journey for approximately half a year. Three countries sent another Mars explorations.
The most recent launching of probes during the conjunctions was in the summer of 2020. In July 2020, the UAE launched the Hope spacecraft and would orbit Mars to study its weather patterns and atmosphere. On July 23, China launched its Tianwen-1.
On July 30, the US launched the NASA Perseverance rover mission. It is a large and six-wheeled NASA rover that is equipped with sophisticated instruments. The target of this NASA rover is the Jezero Crater, which is an ancient river delta site and a location for ancient forms of life to have thrived.
Once Perseverance land on the Martian surface, it would study Mars’ weather and climate and test the technologies that could possibly help humans survive the red planet. The NASA rover with high-end instruments would also collect samples from Martian surface rocks that could help in discovering other interesting things. Additionally, this NASA rover would help to determine whether Mars was inhabited or not.
NASA targets the 2030s time frame to set the first steps on Mars. The agency continues to develop the space capsule called Orion. This space capsule with sophisticated instruments is designed to take humans to the moon and more.
SpaceX, a private spaceflight, is known to also get into the Mars game. According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species. He works on a plan which envisions people living on Mars before the end of the 21st century time frame.
While the Martian atmosphere is not hospitable to humans, a voyage to Mars is within the area of possibility. Plans for human missions around Mars with long term stays sprouted. With the successful landing of the NASA Curiosity rover in a Mars crater, space entrepreneurs became more eager to mount and fund Mars missions.
NASA hopes to land astronauts on Mars within the next two decades. The agency develops a new space capsule and a heavy-duty rocket with state-of-the-art instruments to realize this goal. The optimal time frame would be in the early 2030 time frame when the different orbits of Earth and Mars bring them closer.
Soon, humans could finally discover whether the ancient Martian surface ever hosted life due to clues of past water activity and rock formation or if there is a future to live there. We could make a human mission to Mars no longer a Sci-Fi dream and see the truth behind this planet with future explorations.