We, along with the other NASA interns, had a daytime lecture by Dr. Geoffrey Landis on-site at NASA Glenn. In Dr. Landis’ talk he focused on the different rover landers that have been sent to Mars over the past several years to explore the Martian surface, and relay data back to Earth. First he gave us an overview of what was known about the surface of Mars before the rover missions. For example, the Viking Orbiter was sent to Mars in 1976, and it sent back pictures of what appears to be dried up water beds on the surface, giving us a view of the climate change that took place on Mars in the past. Then Dr. Landis talked a little bit about the different Rovers that failed in their mission to explore the surface of Mars. For example, the Mars Polar Lander, which was the cheapest mission of its kind, did not make it. In addition, many other rover-lander projects did not make it to the final stages because of cancellation, shifting of budget money, and other issues.
Next, Dr. Landis spoke about his involvement with Spirit and Opportunity, the rover landers that were sent to Mars a few years ago. He talked about the challenges that were faced in these missions once the rovers reached the surface, and he showed us pictures that the rovers took of themselves on the surface, of interesting rocks and land features that they came across, of cliffs that exposed a history of sediment deposits, and of mountain ranges and sunrise landscapes on Mars. One thing that he pointed out to us is that Mars is a reddish-gray adobe color, and any images we have seen that have blue and green colors in them are De-correlation Stretched images that bring out different aspects of the rock’s materials. He also showed us image strings of the dust devils on Mars that were captured by the rovers. Spirit and Opportunity landed during Mars’ summer season, and they were only estimated to last 90 days. Luckily, they were still in good working condition well past the 90 days and were able to make it through the winter. Even though their solar cells were getting covered in dust decreasing the amount of power they were able to generate, the Spring winds blew a good amount of the dust off, so they were able to continue to explore the Martian surface, and relay their observations.
To wrap up his presentation, Dr. Landis told us about some of the future rover missions to Mars that NASA and ESA are working on now. Some of the things these new rovers will be able to analyze are the atmospheric and climatological evolution of Mars, and the chemical composition of the rocks on the surface. They are also hoping to do a sample return mission so that scientists would be able to analyze the rocks of Mars up close, but this mission is still in the conceptual and design phase.