NASA 50 Years of MARS Exploration – 15 Robotic Missions

NASA 50 Years of MARS Exploration – 15 Robotic Missions

21 August 2015 |

Some of the red-hot questions related to the MARS are – Life exists on Mars or not? Whether life ever existed on Mars? In future, Is the life on Mars possible? To address these important questions NASA conducted several missions in last 50 years to explore the Mars.

2015 marks 50 years of successful NASA missions to Mars starting with Mariner 4 in 1965. Since then, a total of 15 robotic missions led by various NASA centers have laid the groundwork for future human missions to the Red Planet. The journey to Mars continues with additional robotic missions planned for 2016 and 2020, and human missions in the 2030.

The NASA 15 Robotic missions for Mars exploration are:

  1. Mariner 4 – 1965

Mariner 4 was the fourth in a series of spacecraft used for planetary exploration in a flyby mode and represented the first successful flyby of the planet Mars, returning the first pictures of the martian surface. These represented the first images of another planet ever returned from deep space. Mariner 4 was designed to conduct closeup scientific observations of Mars and to transmit these observations to Earth. Other mission objectives were to perform field and particle measurements in interplanetary space in the vicinity of Mars and to provide experience in and knowledge of the engineering capabilities for interplanetary flights of long duration. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mariner 4 (Image: NASA)
  1. Mairners 6 & 7 – 1969

Mariner 6 and 7 were the second pair of Mars missions in NASA’s Mariner series of solar system exploration in the 1960s and early 1970s. As with the other Mariners, each launched on an Atlas rocket with either an Agena or Centaur upper-stage booster, and weighed less than half a ton (without onboard rocket propellant).

In 1969, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 completed the first dual mission to Mars, flying by over the equator and south polar regions and analyzing the Martian atmosphere and surface with remote sensors, as well as recording and relaying hundreds of pictures. By chance, both flew over cratered regions and missed both the giant northern volcanoes and the equatorial grand canyon that was discovered later. Their approach pictures did, however, show that the dark features on the surface long seen from Earth were not canals, as once interpreted in the 1800s. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mairners 6-7 (Image: NASA)
  1. Mariner 9 – 1971

The Mariner Mars 71 mission was planned to consist of two spacecraft to orbit Mars on complementary missions, but due to the failure of Mariner 8 to launch properly, only one spacecraft was available. Mariner 9 combined mission objectives of both Mariner 8 (mapping 70 % of the Martian surface) and Mariner 9 (a study of temporal changes in the Martian atmosphere and on the Martian surface). For the survey portion of the mission, the planetary surface was to be mapped with the same resolution as planned for the original mission, although the resolution of pictures of the polar regions would be decreased due to the increased slant range. The variable features experiments were changed from studies of six given areas every 5 days to studies of smaller regions every 17 days. Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mariner 9 (Image: NASA)
  1. Vikings 1 & 2 – 1976

NASA’s Viking Project found a place in history when it became the first U.S. mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars and return images of the surface. Two identical spacecraft, each consisting of a lander and an orbiter, were built. Each orbiter-lander pair flew together and entered Mars orbit; the landers then separated and descended to the planet’s surface.

The Viking 1 lander touched down on the western slope of Chryse Planitia (the Plains of Gold), while the Viking 2 lander settled down at Utopia Planitia.

Besides taking photographs and collecting other science data on the Martian surface, the two landers conducted three biology experiments designed to look for possible signs of life. These experiments discovered unexpected and enigmatic chemical activity in the Martian soil, but provided no clear evidence for the presence of living microorganisms in soil near the landing sites. According to scientists, Mars is self-sterilizing. They believe the combination of solar ultraviolet radiation that saturates the surface, the extreme dryness of the soil and the oxidizing nature of the soil chemistry prevent the formation of living organisms in the Martian soil. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Vikings (Image: NASA)
  1. Mars Global Surveyor – 1996

Mars Global Surveyor was the first successful U.S. mission launched to Mars since the Viking mission in 1976. After a 20-year absence at the planet, Mars Global Surveyor ushered in a new era of Mars exploration with its pioneering science investigations. Mars Global Surveyor arrived at Mars on September 11, 1997, and has contributed a multitude of findings, including signs of past, persistent water such as an ancient delta and currently active water features in the gullies of canyon walls. After nearly a decade of discovery, MGS went silent in November, 2006. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mars Global Surveyor (Image: NASA)
  1. Mars Pathfinder – 1996

Mars Pathfinder was originally designed as a technology demonstration of a way to deliver an instrumented lander and a free-ranging robotic rover to the surface of the red planet. Pathfinder not only accomplished this goal but also returned an unprecedented amount of data and outlived its primary design life.

Mars Pathfinder used an innovative method of directly entering the Martian atmosphere, assisted by a parachute to slow its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere and a giant system of airbags to cushion the impact. The landing site, an ancient flood plain in Mars’ northern hemisphere known as Ares Vallis, is among the rockiest parts of Mars. It was chosen because scientists believed it to be a relatively safe surface to land on and one which contained a wide variety of rocks deposited during a catastrophic flood.

The lander, formally named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station following its successful touchdown, and the rover, named Sojourner after American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth, both outlived their design lives — the lander by nearly three times, and the rover by 12 times. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mars Pathfinder (Image: NASA)
  1. Mars Odyssey – 2001

2001 Mars Odyssey is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. The opportunity to go to Mars comes around every 26 months, when the alignment of Earth and Mars in their orbits around the sun allows spacecraft to travel between the two planets with the least amount of energy.

2001 Mars Odyssey has contributed numerous science results. It has mapped the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals that make up the martian surface. Maps of hydrogen distribution led scientists to discover vast amounts of water ice in the polar regions burried just beneath the surface. Odyssey has also recorded the radiation environment in low Mars orbit to determine the radiation-related risk to any future human explorers who may one day go to Mars. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mars Odyssey (Image: NASA)
  1. Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit, Opportunity) – 2003

NASA’s twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004).

The Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.

Primary among the mission’s scientific goals is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft are targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past. The landing sites are at Gusev Crater, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater, and Meridiani Planum, where mineral deposits (hematite) suggest Mars had a wet past.

After the airbag-protected landing craft settled onto the surface and opened, the rovers rolled out to take panoramic images. These images give scientists the information they need to select promising geological targets that tell part of the story of water in Mars’ past. Then, the rovers drive to those locations to perform on-site scientific investigations. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Opportunity Rover (Image: NASA)
  1. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – 2005

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter blasted off from Cape Canaveral in 2005, on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars’ history, it remains a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Image: NASA)
  1. Phoenix Lander – 2008

Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface. But in the Martian arctic, water ice lurks just below ground level. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. The Phoenix lander targets this circumpolar region using a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Phoenix Lander (Image: NASA)
  1. Curiosity – 2012

With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.” Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)
  1. MAVEN – 2013

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is part of NASA’s Mars Scout program, funded by NASA Headquarters. Launched in Nov. 2013, the mission will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.

Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability. Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
MAVEN (Image: NASA)
  1. Insight – Coming 2016

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior.

But InSight is more than a Mars mission – it is a terrestrial planet explorer that will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science – understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.

By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

InSight seeks to answer one of science’s most fundamental questions: How did the terrestrial planets form? Explore detail mission.

MARS Exploration
Insight Rover (Artistic view, Image: NASA)
  1. Mars 2020 Rover – Coming 2020

The Mars 2020 rover for this mission would be based on the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover configuration. It would be car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall).

In some sense, the rover parts for this Mars mission will be similar to what any living creature would need to keep it “alive” and able to explore.

The Mars 2020 rover would have a:

  • body: a structure that protects the rovers’ “vital organs”
  • brains: computers to process information
  • temperature controls: internal heaters, a layer of insulation, and more
  • “neck and head”: a mast for the cameras to give the rover a human-scale view
  • eyes and other “senses”: cameras and instruments that give the rover information about its environment
  • arm and “hand”: a way to extend its reach and collect rock samples for study
  • wheels and “legs”: parts for mobility
  • energy: batteries and power
  • communications: antennas for “speaking” and “listening”

Explore detail mission

MARS Exploration
Mars 2020 Rover (Artistic view, Image: NASA)
  1. Human Mission – Coming 2030

NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010.

Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and robotic and human exploration as we expand our presence into the solar system. Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future. Mars had conditions suitable for life in its past. Future exploration could uncover evidence of life, answering one of the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos: Does life exist beyond Earth?

While robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are helping us prove many of the technologies and communications systems needed for human missions to deep space, including Mars. The space station also advances our understanding of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health.

MARS Exploration
Human mission on MARS (Artistic view, Image: NASA)

See the excitement and happiness of Scientists in each successful mission



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *