I posted a series of book reviews titled, Going to Mars Word-by-Word, in September 2012. It was a fun exploration of the portrayal of Mars in classic to modern science fiction. In real life, we’ve been exploring Mars in new and better ways since then.
The number of launches to Mars is too long, international and complex for a single post by a space enthusiast with limited aerospace knowledge. We’ll focus on a few of the NASA missions.
Mars Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001 and arrived on October 24, 2001. It is an orbiting spacecraft that studies Mars’ surface. Its mission is to detect water, shallow buried ice, and to study the radiation environment.
It is still operational.
Spirit and Opportunity
Spirit was a Mars Exploration Rover launched by NASA on June 10, 2003. Its twin, Opportunity, launched on July 7, 2003. About the size of a golf cart, they carried the same scientific instruments. They landed on opposite sides of the planet on January 4 and 25 (UTC), 2004.
They searched for and characterized a wide range of rocks and soil for clues about past water activity on Mars. Scientists planned for the rovers to drive up to 40 meters (approx. 44 yards) a day for up to 1 kilometer (about three quarters of a mile).
These mechanical geologists exceeded their creators’s wildest dreams. Spirit concluded its mission in 2010. Opportunity worked for almost fifteen years. Scientists lost communication with it on June 10, 2018, during a planet-wide dust storm. It drove 45.16 kilometers (28.05 miles). The findings of the two rovers showed scientists that a very long time ago, Mars had salty seas and may have looked a lot like water on Earth.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) blasted off in 2005. On March 10, 2006, the orbiter reached Mars. Its scientific instruments studied the planet’s surface from orbit. The mission was to seek the history of water on Mars with extreme close-up photography.
The MRO’s last communication came on December 31, 2010.
The Phoenix Mars Lander launched on August 4, 2007 (UTC) and landed on May 25, 2008. It studied the Martian arctic, searched for evidence of a habitable zone, and assessed the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.
On July 31, 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander discovered water ice on Mars. The sample contained the same elements as water on earth. Elements we believe are important components of the building blocks for life.
The Lander also observed snow falling from the clouds and found salts and minerals that suggest Mars ice had thawed in the distant past. The lander also exceeded its life expectancy. After five months, instead of 90 days, its mission ended November 2, 2008. NASA lost contact with the lander completely in 2010.
Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, is twice as long and three times as heavy as the twins, Spirit and Opportunity. Launched on November 26, 2011, it landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 using precision landing techniques similar to the way the Space shuttle landings on Earth. Its landing inspired me to launch my blog series, Going to Mars Word-by-word.
This rover’s mission was to study martian rocks and soil in greater detail to understand the geologic processes that formed them and to study the atmosphere. Its design and power supply gave it an expected lifetime of a full martian year (687 Earth days.)
As of June 2022, Curiosity is still active.
Exploring Mars Today
According to NASA, there are five missions exploring Mars at present: Perseverance, MAVEN, Ingenuity, InSight, and Curiosity.
Other countries and space agencies have current missions on Mars as well. Some of these Mars missions are multiple nations and space agencies’s cooperative efforts.
For an international list of missions to Mars, see Space.com’s post or its brief history of Mars missions.
Going to Mars Word-by-Word
There are eight book reviews in this series. The first one reviews A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the last one is Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Wouldn’t itl be fun to explore the series to see if new information gained from exploring Mars changes my review?
What new information have you learned about Mars in the past ten years?
Middle image Curiosity Rover, NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Last image by Robert W. Burrows © 2013.