No other planet in the solar system has intrigued us Earthlings as much as the Red Planet — perhaps due to its similarities to the moon, partly due to the presence of valleys, volcanoes and other features of the Earth, which makes it an option for a home for future generations some day. Nasa’s Curiosity has taken a first look around its neighbourhood and found it looks just like home. Let’s trace back our Mars missions and its influence on our lives.
Mars 1M program
The Mars 1M program (sometimes dubbed Marsnik in Western media) was the first Soviet unmanned spacecraft interplanetary exploration program, which consisted of two flyby probes launched towards Mars in October 1960, Mars 1960A and Mars 1960B (also known as Korabl 4 and Korabl 5 respectively). After launch, the third stage pumps on both launchers were unable to develop enough thrust to commence ignition, so Earth parking orbit was not achieved. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 120 km before reentry.
Mars Pathfinder was a US spacecraft that landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars in July 4, 1997. It consisted of a lander and a small 10.6 kg (23 lb) wheeled robotic rover named Sojourner, which was the first rover to operate on the surface of Mars. In addition to scientific objectives, the Mars Pathfinder mission was also a “proof-of-concept” for various technologies, such as airbag landing system and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rovers.
Mars Global Surveyor
After the 1992 failure of Nasa’s Mars Observer orbiter, Nasa retooled and launched Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). This mission was the first successful United States mission, and the first fully successful mission overall, to the red planet in two decades when it launched on November 7, 1996, and entered orbit on September 12, 1997. After a year and a half trimming its orbit from a looping ellipse to a circular track around the planet, the spacecraft began its primary mapping mission in March 1999. It observed the planet from a low-altitude, nearly polar orbit over the course of one complete Martian year, the equivalent of nearly two Earth years. Mars Global Surveyor completed its primary mission on January 31, 2001, and completed several extended mission phases.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The $720 million USD spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006.
Odyssey & Express
In 2001 arrived NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter arrived. Its mission is to use spectrometers and imagers to hunt for evidence of past or present water and volcanic activity on Mars. In 2002, it was announced that the probe’s gamma ray spectrometer and neutron spectrometer had detected large amounts of hydrogen, indicating that there are vast deposits of water ice in the upper three meters of Mars’ soil within 60° latitude of the south pole.
Mars in Mythology
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions. His festivals were held in March, the month named for him, and in October, which began and ended the season for military campaigning and farming. Mars was identified with the Greek god Ares, whose myths were reinterpreted in Roman literature and art under the name of Mars. But the character and dignity of Mars differed in fundamental ways from that of his Greek counterpart, who is often treated with contempt and revulsion in Greek literature.
- The ancient Greeks attributed the planet to Ares, their god of war, because of its red color.
- Mars has white areas at the poles that are white polar ice caps.
- Mars is about half the size of Earth.
- Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos.
- Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun.
- The Martian surface is red due to the oxidation of iron in the soil.
- The Martian atmosphere is 100 times less dense than that of Earth.
- The temperature on Mars varies from cold to extremely cold.
- It impossible for water to exist as a liquid on the surface of Mars.
- More than 100,000 asteroids lie in a belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Mars in popular fiction
Voyage: Stephen Baxter
An alternate history tale in which John F. Kennedy lives and so does NASA’s manned space flight program—which leads to a manned Mars mission in 1986.
Red Mars | Green Mars | Blue Mars: Kim Stanley Robinson
This trilogy details the transformation of Mars from the desolate Red Planet that it is today into a living, breathing world inhabited by humans.
Moving Mars, Greg Bear
The tale of a revolution on Mars that leads to Mars’s secession—not only from government, but from the Solar System itself.
Indian Mars probe
The Indian Space Research Organisation is preparing an orbiter mission to Mars and received 125 crore ($23 million) from the government to complete the required studies. The space agency is looking at a November 2013 launch and would use its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket to put the satellite in orbit. The agency is also considering using ion-thrusters, liquid engines or nuclear power to propel the bus further towards Mars. Scientific proposals and specific objectives are still in progress.
It is expected to cost over $100 million.