Spacecraft on Mars

The instruments aboard the rover will search for organic compounds that could have provided the foundation of life on Mars and explore whether or not its environment ever supported life forms.

Planners are currently deliberating whether the entire spacecraft that launched from Earth on its way to Mars should land directly, or remain in orbit and only place its lander on the ground.


Landers are probes designed to land on celestial bodies such as Mars and conduct research in specific places on that planet’s surface, like this spectacular panoramic of Martian scenery taken by Pathfinder probe in 1997. Lander data transmitted back is both detailed and impressive.

NASA’s Viking 1 and 2, which arrived on Mars in 1975, were hybrid orbiter/lander spacecraft designed by NASA. Landers searched the surface for signs of life while orbiters created global maps.

The Lander would use its heat shield to slow its descent into Mars’ atmosphere approximately 4 minutes and 33 seconds prior to landing, then separate from Star 48 upper cruise stage and release its parachute for deployment. Three solid rockets mounted in its backshell would further slow its descent. Ten seconds before touchdown, airbags would inflate to cushion impact with impact cushioning airbags being activated about 10 seconds prior. Finally, it would cut free from 20 meter long cable (known as bridle) to drop directly on surface Mars’ surface surface.


One of the key tools on a Mars rover is its drill, which can use high-powered spinning burrs to grind up rocks samples into collection tubes for future analysis by scientists on Earth.

Curiosity’s other tools that can search for evidence of life include bombarding surface rocks with neutrons that slow down when they hit hydrogen atoms – one of the elements essential to making water. She can also sniff for organic molecules using her moessbauer spectrometer.

It features high-resolution cameras capable of zooming in on rocks and landscapes, and its chassis is constructed of radiation shielded material designed to absorb heat during Martian nights. Furthermore, heaters and multi-layer insulation help ensure its electronic systems operate comfortably at temperatures suitable for their operation – plus Earth-based control can command it in near real-time.


Since the 1960s, space agencies have conducted nearly 40 Mars missions; most involved flybys involving vessels circumnavigating the planet while taking photographs for return transmission.

Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor’s success in 1996 heralded an era of more frequent trips to Mars, but in 1998 disaster struck. Russia’s Phobos-Grunt sample return mission was destroyed due to a booster failure, leading to its detonation into Earth’s atmosphere and thus rendering its return mission obsolete.

This year, Mars is being targeted by several launches. In 2021, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope craft will explore Mars’ weather patterns while China’s Tianwen-1 conducts similar tasks and NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter will touch down at Jezero Crater to study them further.

The mission will search the site for signs of water and other ingredients necessary for life in rock layers that date back 3.9 billion years, caching any promising samples for follow-up missions. Such efforts lay the groundwork for landing humans on Mars – something NASA hopes to achieve by 2030s while private spaceflight companies also explore interplanetary journeys.


Phobos and Deimos, Mars’ two natural satellites, are potato-shaped bodies with heavily cratered surfaces. Their composition suggests carbonaceous chondrites while their relatively close orbits to Mars make capture asteroids possible.

In 1971, twin Mariner spacecraft flew by Mars and captured images of its surface, including its southern polar ice cap. However, shortly afterwards they lost contact with their ground controllers and were put into solar orbit instead of returning home to Earth.

Mars Pathfinder made history when it landed on Mars’ surface in 1997 and deployed Sojourner rover with instruments to analyze soil composition, detect earthquakes and underground heat flow, study water ice formation in alkaline soil and dig trenches for collecting samples for analysis onboard. Other spacecraft orbiting include Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has studied climate and geology since 2006 as well as Odyssey which monitors changes on Mars while relaying communications among its surface rovers.

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