Future Mars Missions
July 24, 2007
Geoffrey Landis gave a talk today which reviewed the past and current missions to Mars, discussed the missions already in the works for the future, and suggested which other types of missions might be in the works.
His talk began with the history of humans observing Mars, specifically with Percival Lowell’s maps and belief that Mars was a planet teeming with life. The first probe mission was Mariner 4. It gave us the first view of Mars as a desolate, cratered planet with a thin atmosphere and no liquid water. The next missions were the Viking landers and orbiters, which mapped the surface more thoroughly and discovered that there used to be liquid water on the surface. This mission made scientists want to learn more about how the planet has changed over the past millennia.
The first rover to go to Mars was Sojourner. This mission’s goal was technological demonstration: to prove that it was possible to have a solar powered rover land on the surface and have the mobility to move across the terrain. In 2004, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on the surface on opposite sides of the planet. The rovers were designed for 90 days of use but are still functioning approaching day 1300.
This extra time has given scientists ample opportunity to explore the more interesting features around each of the landing sites. The recently arrived Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken photos of these two rovers with its high definition color stereo camera, enabling scientists to create 3D virtual videos of the landscape. A planet covering dust storm has halted the rovers summer activities but weather reports look like it should be clearing up soon.
Missions which will be launching soon are the Mars Express orbiter and Phoenix lander and the Mars Science Laboratory is planned for 2009. Another orbiter, design yet to be determined, will be launched in 2011 and yet another mission will be sent in 2013. Possibilities for this last mission include a polar rover, robonaut rovers and a sample return to earth.