An extensive study of the outflow channels among other geological properties show that Mars has the most hospitable climatic conditions after Earth in the entire solar system.
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These studies carried out by outstanding Mars scientists have been successful through various robotic explorations and missions to Mars. Here, the success of these missions is based on the fact that autonomous rovers have the ability to traverse through Mars thereby enabling the scientists to make various observations within limited areas (Arny & Schneider, 2010, p. 1).
So far, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) undertaken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) aims at searching for various evidence suggesting past life in Mars, exploring the hydrothermal habitats in Mars, searching any form of past or present life, and discovering the evolution of mars (Rapp, 2008, pp. 1-5).
Accordingly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (n.d., p. 1 of 3) notes that the series of missions to Mars have so far been carried out in three stages, that is, Flybys, Orbiters, and Landers/Rovers. Furthermore, additional studies note that the future of Mars exploration will entail Airplanes & Balloons, Subsurface Explorers, and Sample Return (Arny & Schneider, 2010, p. 3). To this end, this research paper presents a detailed account of the past, present, and future missions to Mars.
The past, current and future missions to Mars
During the early days of Mars exploration, the missions to Mars involved the Mariner 3-4 and Mariner 6-7, which were spacecrafts with the ability to take pictures as they flew past the surface of Mars. The Mariner 3-4 and Mariner 6-7 were among ten identical spacecrafts weighing approximately half a ton without including the onboard rocket propellant, which were designed by NASA in 1962-1973.
The ten Mariners were to fly by the inner solar system including the planets Mercury, Mars, and Venus (Rapp, 2008, p. 15). However, the first flybys to be launched to Mars include the Mariner 3 and 4. On November 5, 1964, Mariner 3 launched on an Atlas rocket but failed to reach Mars.
And on November 28, the same year, the successful launching of Mariner 4 saw the spacecraft flying past Mars by July 14, 1965, and thus enabling the scientists to discover lunar-type impact craters on the surface of Mars. Due to its longer survival than expected design lifespan, Mariner 4 enabled the scientists to study the wind environment of the solar system relative to measurements made by Mariner 5 located in Venus by then (Arny & Schneider, 2010, p. 9).
The second pair of spacecrafts to be launched to Mars includes Mariner 6 and 7. The two robotic spacecrafts were launched in February 24, 1969 and March 27, 1969 respectively. In this dual mission to Mars, Mariner 6 and 7 enabled the scientists to analyze the surface of Mars and the Martian atmosphere through the remote sensors in the spacecrafts besides the Mariners taking and sending several pictures of the Mars surface.
Unfortunately, Mariner 6 and 7 did not capture some aspects of the surface of Mars, which were explored later such as the gigantic northern volcanoes and the Grand Canyon (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d., p. 1 of 3).
The spacecrafts located in the orbit surrounding Mars are referred to as orbiters, which include Mariner 8-9, Viking 1-2, Mars Observer, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Climate Orbiter, 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The third pair of spacecrafts to be launched to Mars in the early 1970s includes Mariner 8 and 9. As opposed to other flybys, Mariner 8 and Mariner 9 were the first pair of orbiters designed to spend some time around Mars rather than flying past its surface (Arny & Schneider, 2010, p. 10).
Despite that Mariner 8 failed to launch, on May 30, 1971, Mariner 9 become the first successful artificial satellite to enter the Martian orbit thereby completing its transmission by October 27, 1972. Here, studies note that Mariner 9 collected pictures of about 100% of the Martian surface, the two Martian moons (Phobos and Deimos), gigantic volcanoes, and the equatorial Grand Canyon (Rapp, 2008, p. 23).
Subsequently, NASA embarked on a project that saw the designing of a pair of orbiter-lander spacecrafts in the hope that if the orbiter and lander flew to Mars together, they will eventually separate with the orbiter entering the Martian orbit and the lander settling on the Martian surface. The Viking 1 and 2 orbiters launched on August 20, 1975 and September 9, 1975 respectively while the Viking 1 and 2 landers successfully landed on July 20, 1976 and September 3, 1976 respectively.
With various science instruments on board, the landers took pictures of the Martian surface besides conducting three major science experiments aimed at investigating any signs of life in Mars. Despite that the Viking orbiters/landers were meant to last for 90 days, they continued to send data until the early 1980s (Arny & Schneider, 2010, p. 18).
The most recent orbiter launched in August, 2005 is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which consists of the most advanced camera with the capability of capturing and sending images of detailed aspects of geology, the structure of Mars, and any other details that could influence the landing of additional rovers and landers in the future.
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This device consists of a sounder (which aids in discovering subsurface water), multitasking/multipurpose spacecraft (for mineral identification), and the interplanetary internet to link communication between the Earth and Mars. As a result, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter forms the basis for future advancement in planetary explorations (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2011, p. 1 0f 7).
Landers and Rovers
Besides the Viking 1 and 2 landers/orbiters discussed above, the NASA’s MEP has used several landers and rovers in its missions to Mars including the Mars Pathfinder, Polar Lander/Deep Space 2, Mars Exploration Rovers, Phoenix, and now the most anticipated Mars Science Laboratory (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d., p. 1 of 3).
In December 4, 1996, the Mars Pathfinder was launched with the aim of discovering alternative means of delivering instrumented landers and free-ranging rovers to the Martian surface. The lander and rover reached the surface of mars successfully besides outliving their design lifespan, and thus sending in more information including the observations made by scientists that Mars was warm and wet at some point in the past.
However, according to the Astronomy (2011, p. 28), the most recent and advanced lander/rover projected to launch in fall 2011 and reach the Martian surface by fall 2012 is the Mars Science Laboratory.
Relative to the earlier design of other Mars Exploration Rovers and the successful innovation undertaken by rover geologists in 2004, the Mars Science Laboratory is more advanced, and thus it is projected to carry out rock/soil sampling and analysis to discover the organic compounds responsible for past, present, or future life in Mars. The laboratory contains a hydrogen detector (for water detection), a Meteorological package, and a Spectrometer for various analytical measurements.
Besides, the laboratory is said to use advanced landing techniques compared to other spacecrafts in order to land on a specified location on the Martian surface. Furthermore, using laser technology, the laboratory is anticipated to perform various analyses to detect acids/bases, proteins, amino acids, and atmospheric gases (Astronomy, 2011, p. 31).
Overall, using the technology displayed by the Mars Science Laboratory, there is the possibility that the future missions to mars will enable scientists to explore the greater detail of Mars including various underlying aspects of the Martian surface such as geologic processes, water circulation/distribution, the Martian atmosphere, the composition of gases, and the chemical state of different gases in the Martian atmosphere.
Furthermore, based on data collected from earlier missions to mars, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (2011, p. 1 of 7) notes that the future explorations to Mars will entail Airplanes and Balloons, Subsurface Explorers, and Sample Returns, which will give the finer details of Mars from a broader perspective including carrying to the Earth the samples of soil, gases, and rocks from Mars for analysis in human-manned laboratories.
Arny, T., & Schneider, S. (2010). Explorations: Introduction to Astronomy. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Astronomy. (2011, June 9). Next NASA Mars mission rescheduled for 2011. Astronomy Magazine, 135, 28-31.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2011). Lunar and Planetary Science: General Information. National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC). Retrieved from https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/planets/marspage.html
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (n.d.). Mars Exploration Program: Programs & missions. Retrieved from https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/
Rapp, D. (2008). Human missions to mars: Enabling technologies for exploring the Red Planet. UK: Praxis Publishing Ltd.