Mars Exploration Program

Mars Exploration Program

Space probes and Mars rovers examine the structure of Mars and possible traces of life.

Geography

Keywords

Mars, space probe, Mariner, Viking, Mars Pathfinder, marsjáró, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, traces of life, descent module, planet, Space Race, NASA, spectroscopy, astronomy, space research, geography

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Scenes

  • maneuvering engine

Besides the Moon, the largest number of space probes were sent to Mars. The Soviet and American space agencies had been in competition for the planet since the 60s. The purpose of the exploration program was to find signs of life on Mars.

The first space probe sent to Mars was the Soviet Mars 1, but it failed. The first photos of Mars (21 black and white pictures) were taken by Mariner 4.

Mariner 9 successfully entered orbit about Mars and became the first artificial satellite of the planet. It discovered several terrain features, such as the 25 km (15.5 mi) tall Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the Solar System.

The Pathfinder space probe, which carried the first Mars rover landed on Mars in 1997. The vehicle was designed to complete a few hundred meters journey. It functioned for three months.

In 2004, twin probes were launched to Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers sought evidence of water on Mars. They were originally designed for 90 days, but Spirit has traveled 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) in 7 years, sent 124 thousand pictures and analyzed 93 rock samples before becoming stuck in a sand dune. Opportunity is still active.

  • - Chemical camera that shoots infrared laser beams on the rock it examines, evaporating a small amount of the material. The camera then analyzes the composition of the fumes by spectroscopy.
  • - It serves to ensure communication with the Mars rover (control, data transmission).

The main purpose of Curiosity is to find possible traces of water and life on the surface of Mars as well as to carry out planetary habitability studies in preparation for future human exploration.

The Curiosity rover was launched by NASA on November 11, 2011. The rover successfully landed on August 6, 2012 in the 150 km (93.2 mi) wide Gale crater.

The landing was completely automatic, extremely complicated and risky; this is why it was called the ‘seven minutes of terror’. When the descent module entered the Martian atmosphere it lowered its speed. At an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi) the supersonic parachute opened, then at 7 km (4.4 mi) the heat shield disconnected. When the speed was low enough, the protective shield also disengaged. The Sky Crane continued the descent and lowered the Mars rover onto the Martian surface from a height of 20 m (65.6 ft).

Curiosity analyzes rocks with its high-tech instruments. These include the ChemCam, a chemical camera that shoots infrared laser beams at the rock it examines, which makes a small amount of the material evaporate. The camera then examines the composition of the resultant fumes by spectroscopy.

In September 2012 Curiosity has found an ancient riverbed, which provides proof of past water activity on the surface of Mars - a prerequisite for the emergence of life.

Narration

The exploration of Mars bears great significance in many respects. There might once have been liquid water on the Martian surface, providing an appropriate environment for the development of life. Furthermore the planet might be suitable for establishing human colonies.

Traces of Martian water and life have been intensively sought since the 1970s.
The first photos of Mars were taken by the American Mariner 4 space probe when it flew by the planet in 1965. Mariner 9, launched in 1971, was the first spacecraft to enter orbit around another planet. Between November 1971 and October 1972 it took over 7,000 photos of the Martian surface, atmosphere and moons. It discovered several terrain features, such as dry riverbeds, canyons and the 25 km (15.5 mi) tall Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the Solar System.

During the years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, space exploration played an especially important role in the competition between the two superpowers. NASA, the U.S. space agency, succeeded in delivering the descent modules for the Viking 1 and 2 space probes, while similar attempts by the Soviet Union remained unsuccessful. The Viking probes examined the atmosphere, climate and surface for years. They also searched for traces of life, but the results were inconclusive.

The next generation of instruments to examine Mars were Mars rovers. The Pathfinder space probe, which carried the first Mars rover, landed on Mars in 1997. Although the vehicle was designed to function for 30 days, it lasted for three months.
In 2004 twin probes were launched to Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers sought evidence of water on the Red Planet. They were originally designed for 90 days, but Spirit traveled 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) in 7 years, sent 124 thousand pictures and analyzed 93 rock samples before becoming stuck in a sand dune. Opportunity is still active.

The main purpose of Curiosity is to locate possible traces of water and life on the surface of Mars as well as to carry out planetary habitability studies in preparation for future human exploration.
The Curiosity rover was launched by NASA on November 11, 2011. The rover successfully landed on August 6, 2012 in the 150 km (93.2 mi) wide Gale crater.

The landing was completely automatic, extremely complicated and risky; this is why it was called the ‘seven minutes of terror’. When the descent module entered the Martian atmosphere, it lowered its speed. At an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi), the supersonic parachute opened, then at 7 km (4.4 mi) the heat shield disconnected. When the speed was low enough, the protective shield also disengaged. The Sky Crane continued the descent and lowered the Mars rover onto the Martian surface from a height of 20 m (65.6 ft).
Curiosity analyzes rocks with its high-tech instruments. These include the ChemCam, a chemical camera that shoots infrared laser beams at the rock it examines, thus causing a small amount of the material to evaporate. The camera then examines the composition of the resultant fumes by spectroscopy.
In September 2012, Curiosity found an ancient riverbed, which provides proof of past water activity on the surface of Mars - a prerequisite for the emergence of life.

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