Mars, is the fourth planet in in our Solar System, half the size of Earth. It is rich in iron that’s why its sometimes called the Red Planet.
Mars is a cold desert world, with a think atmosphere made of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon. It has two relatively small (compared to Earth’s) natural moons, Phobos and Deimos.
Why is Mars called Mars?
Mars was named after the Romans most important gods – the god of war “Ares”
Why explore Mars?
There are many reasons for exploring Mars: it is close by in our Solar System, it is the most similar planet to Earth and for that reason the search for life on another planet, understanding the surface of Mars and the planet’s evolution in an attempt to understand more about the evolution and history of Earth and other planets, and preparing for future human exploration.
Currently, on some of Mars hillsides, there is evidence of liquid salty water and possibility of ancient floods, but water mostly exists in icy dirt and thin clouds. So, scientists would like to investigate if there was once life on Mars and the possibility of supporting life now or in the future.
Missions to Mars?
There have been a number of missions launched to Mars since the 1960s, with dozens of robotic spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and rovers. Successful landings on mars were done by NASA, Soviet Union, ESA and ISRO.
The first successful landing on Mars was NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 in 1976.
The latest mission to Mars is the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is an atmospheric research orbiter, built in collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos, that was injected into Mars orbit on 2016.
The (InSight) NASA mission is a robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars, launched on 5 May 2018 and successfully landed on Mars on November 26, 2018 and still operational.
The Curiosity NASA is a rover (size of a car), designed to explore the crater Gale on Mars, which was launched on 2011 and landed on 2012, and still operational.
Currently, as of 2019 there are 6 orbiters, 1 lander and 1 rover, all operational (adapted from this reference).
Know the difference?
Is a spacecraft that makes a soft landing on an alien surface such as another planet, moon or asteroid. Example of a Mars lander is Insight.
Wheeled robots or motorized vehicles that are used to explore the surface of an alien surface upon arrival such as another planet. Examples of rovers that have already gone to Mars are Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity.
A spacecraft that orbits around another planet used to explore it, examples include earth orbiter, lunar orbiter, mars orbiter, solar orbiter. Examples of Mars orbiters are ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, MAVEN and Mangalyaan.
Some of the future expected missions?
- ESA and Roscosmos as part of the ExoMars program, are planning plan to send the ExoMars rover in 2020 to search for past or present microscopic life on Mars.
- NASA will be launching in 2020, the Mars 2020 rover mission, that is focused on astrobiology.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will send an orbiter to Mars, the Emirates Mars Mission, in 2020.
- The 2020 Chinese Mars Mission is planned to include an orbiter, a lander and a small rover.
- The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is planning to send a lander and possibly a rover as a follow up mission to its Mars Orbiter Mission by 2022.