As the closest planet to Earth; At eighty million kilometers away, Mars is considered a ripe red apple in the field of space exploration. However, the tiny planet presents a major challenge due to its harsh terrain, toxic atmosphere and extreme climate. Mars, named after the ancient Roman god of war, is the fourth planet from the Sun, half the size of Earth, and has two moons: Phobos and Deimos.
The Soviet Union made the first attempt to send a probe to the surface of Mars in the 1960s; However, the probe, nicknamed Marsnik 1, failed to reach Earth orbit, and the mission ended in failure. In 1993, NASA launched the Mars Exploration Program with four ambitious goals: to determine whether the Red Planet was once inhabited, to study and describe the planet’s geography and climate, and finally to prepare for human exploration of the planet’s surface.
Over the years, the project has faced major challenges; From entering the planet’s orbit to landing on its surface. One of the most difficult challenges is developing technologies that can function properly in the hostile environment on Mars; Countless engineering maneuvers had to be performed to ensure that the lander, balloons, and sampling systems functioned properly under the harsh environmental conditions of the Martian desert..
The basic strategy of the project is to look for signs of life to prove whether Mars once existed or in the future could be a habitable environment for biological life forms. Since water is the secret to life, the first missions to Mars – Mars Odyssey 2001, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Phoenix Lander – focused on finding signs of water in the past or present. Images from exploratory missions indicate water was present on the Martian surface in the past, and the sizes, shapes and distribution of geological samples—such as sand, pebbles, and small rocks—strongly indicate that they were formed by and from water. Movement in ancient times..
To date, the Curiosity rover has completed all of its missions. The 899 kg, car-sized rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 26, 2011, and landed on the Martian surface on August 6, 2012. Palos Aeolian Plain.*. The probe’s first goal was to spend 687 days in Gale Crater on the surface of Mars. However, continuous combing of the Martian soil took about 1,532 days, or almost four years. Work continued day and night in all seasons of the year, using a special set of radioisotope heat generators; At normal operating temperatures, excess heat is diverted through an indoor greenhouse system to keep the probe’s sensitive electronics that handle sampling and analysis protected from the cold Martian atmosphere..
As Earth’s first rover to Mars, Curiosity has done an excellent job of studying the Martian geography and climate, and investigating whether its chosen research area, Gale Crater, ever hosted microbial life. This study now provides information that will become the foundation for future human exploration on Mars.
However, sending humans to the surface of Mars, which has an atmosphere a hundred times thinner than Earth’s and an average temperature of -63 degrees Celsius, will present an entirely different challenge. Landing a human-carrying spacecraft safely on Mars is extremely difficult due to the planet’s uneven terrain, which consists mainly of mountainous terrain filled with rugged rocky features such as mountains, craters, and trenches. Landing platforms should be carefully selected and landing thrusts should be designed to ensure a smooth and stable landing to avoid overturning of the vehicle.
The future of the Mars exploration program remains uncertain; Due to the enormous cost and exceptionally high failure rates of earlier missions, it became very difficult to mobilize enough public support to fund any other mission. However, scientists still hope that at some point in the future there will be enough will and means to continue the marathon of Martian exploration, and eventually the human race will gather enough knowledge to meet their shy, red neighbor.
This article was originally printed in Science Planet, Winter 2017 issue.
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