Scientists are making concerted efforts to learn more about Mars. If they hope to make it habitable for human life in the future, more knowledge must be accumulated first.
One way of accomplishing this task is through growing plants that provide food and oxygen for astronauts – however this increases both weight and cost for missions.
Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft ever to orbit another planet when it launched in May 1971. Unfortunately, when Mariner arrived at Mars one of the greatest global dust storms ever experienced obscured all but the highest points on its surface and quickly caused its ground team to reprogram Mariner to postpone any photographic surveys until this storm dissipated.
Mariner 9 provided an abundance of information about Mars during its initial weeks in orbit, with its photographs revealing a landscape characterized by erosion forces, rift valleys, deep canyons, craters and carbon dioxide ice similar to what could be found at Earth’s northern polar cap. It also confirmed the existence of carbon dioxide ice on Mars’ southern polar cap – much like what Earth had on its northern one.
The Phoenix is a symbol of resurrection and regeneration that represents healing and rebirth, often depicted in art and mythology as a fiery bird with long feathers soaring high overhead.
Scientists are employing orbiters like Hope to study Mars from space, while rovers such as Curiosity and Perseverance explore its surface, gathering invaluable data about Mars’ geology and climate. These instruments have proven invaluable for our knowledge about life on the Red Planet.
Astronauts traveling to Mars must protect themselves from exposure to high levels of cosmic radiation on their journey and must be able to communicate back home for at least 20 minutes each way.
NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft first touched down on Mars on July 20, 1976 and provided us with our first color images of our neighboring planet – showing a rugged surface, rust-red hues beneath a dusty pink sky.
The lander and orbiters performed separate missions, with the former conducting extensive soil chemistry experiments to search for signs of life on Mars; unfortunately, however, no conclusive answers were obtained from their examination.
The lander also took close-up pictures of Mars’ landscape. These gave us our first detailed, high-resolution view of this planet, showing volcanoes, lava plains, immense canyons and cratered regions – as well as verifying water’s presence in its northern polar region.
The Viking orbiters and lander provided invaluable new information about Mars. Their images showed flood-induced islands with smooth shorelines; impact craters had more intricate patterns of ejecta than on Earth; and many species on Mars have unusual adaptations of water cycle management systems than humans do.
Mariner 10, an even more complex spacecraft to operate than Mariner 9, carried four instruments designed to answer one key question: did Martian soil show any signs of life? Unfortunately, however, its findings were inconclusive and thus the search for life was shelved for now.
On July 20, 1976, the Mars Lander separated from its orbiter at Utopia Planitia – an impact basin north of Mars’ equator – for its landing. This marked only the second successful spacecraft landing ever on Mars and set the precedent for subsequent missions.
This spacecraft, which will be placed into Mars orbit with ERO satellite, features six laser gyros and two star trackers to precisely determine its attitude. Furthermore, four reaction wheels allow users to direct instruments towards areas of scientific interest on Mars and its moons or to direct its high-gain antenna towards 35-meter dishes up to 400 million miles away on Earth.
Mariner 4 reached Mars after 7.5 months of exploration on July 14, 1965 and sent back 22 grainy black-and-white television pictures, which revealed craters strewn across a reddish carpet of sand and rock.
Mars Exploration Rovers
Spirit and Opportunity, two robots named by NASA to explore Mars, made their initial landings in January 2004 and February 2004, and operated for an initial 90-sol mission before receiving five extension missions.
Each lander separated from its cruise stage before using an aeroshell-covered parachute to descend through space into Mars’ atmosphere, controlled by onboard sensors and estimation systems as it gradually slowed and descended.
After landing, the computer for the rover commanded its appropriate lander petal to open and place the vehicle upright, as well as commanding its descent stage to release any remaining parachute and land safely. The rover itself is an eight-wheeled vehicle equipped with cameras and science instruments.