The Past, Present and Future of Exploration on Mars
Today, we’re celebrating the Red Planet! Since our first close-up picture of Mars in 1965, spacecraft voyages to the Red Planet have revealed a world strangely familiar, yet different enough to challenge our perceptions of what makes a planet work.
You’d think Mars would be easier to understand. Like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps and clouds in its atmosphere, seasonal weather patterns, volcanoes, canyons and other recognizable features. However, conditions on Mars vary wildly from what we know on our own planet.
Join us as we highlight some of the exploration on Mars from the past, present and future:
Our Viking Project found a place in history when it became the first U.S. mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars and return images of the surface. Two identical spacecraft, each consisting of a lander and an orbiter, were built. Each orbiter-lander pair flew together and entered Mars orbit; the landers then separated and descended to the planet’s surface.
Besides taking photographs and collecting other science data, the two landers conducted three biology experiments designed to look for possible signs of life.
In 1997, Pathfinder was the first-ever robotic rover to land on the surface of Mars. It was designed as a technology demonstration of a new way to deliver an instrumented lander to the surface of a planet. Mars Pathfinder used an innovative method of directly entering the Martian atmosphere, assisted by a parachute to slow its descent and a giant system of airbags to cushion the impact.
Pathfinder not only accomplished its goal but also returned an unprecedented amount of data and outlived its primary design life.
Spirit and Opportunity
In January 2004, two robotic geologists named Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet. With far greater mobility than the 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover, these robotic explorers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations. Carrying identical, sophisticated sets of science instruments, both rovers have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.
Both missions exceeded their planned 90-day mission lifetimes by many years. Spirit lasted 20 times longer than its original design until its final communication to Earth on March 22, 2010. Opportunity continues to operate more than a decade after launch.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter left Earth in 2005 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars’ history, it remained a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.
In addition to using the rover to study Mars, we’re using data and imagery from this mission to survey possible future human landing sites on the Red Planet.
The Curiosity rover is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012. Curiosity set out to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms called microbes?
Early in its mission, Curiosity’s scientific tools found chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars. It continues to explore the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.
Space Launch System Rocket
We’re currently building the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). When completed, this rocket will enable astronauts to begin their journey to explore destinations far into the solar system, including Mars.
The Orion spacecraft will sit atop the Space Launch System rocket as it launches humans deeper into space than ever before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
The Mars 2020 rover mission takes the next step in exploration of the Red Planet by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.
The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. The mission will also test a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identify other resources (such as subsurface water), improve landing techniques and characterize weather, dust and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on the Red Planet.
For decades, we’ve sent orbiters, landers and rovers, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers. Mars is the next tangible frontier for human exploration, and it’s an achievable goal. There are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable.
Title: Into Focus Character: Peter Parker A/n: I really hope we get to see more of the photographer aspect of Peter’s character in later movies.
“Do you have any idea what you’d want for your birthday?” You asked Peter as the two of you made the usual walk home from school.
Peter shook his head. “I already told you that you really don’t have to get me anything, just make a card or something.”
“Don’t be so lame, of course I’m getting you a present,” You said, lightly elbowing him. “So, come on, help make my job easier.”
Peter made a zipping motion across his lips. “Nope.
“Ned, can you help me out with something?” You asked, balancing your phone between your jaw and shoulder as you scrolled through various shopping sites on your computer.
“Look, if it’s about the English homework, I don’t really get it much either.”
You chucked. “No, I got that done an hour ago. But I need help picking out a gift for Peter.”
“Oh, okay. What do you have down so far?”
You went through your short list of things you had bookmarked, all of which were met with noises of disagreeance.
“Eh, I’m not really liking any of them so far. What else do you have?”
You sighed, leaning foward to rest your head on your arms. “That’s all of it.”
“Well, looks like we have a lot of work to do before Pete’s birthday.”
Your head shot up. “You mean you’re gonna help me?”
“Of course,” Ned said, but after there was short pause. “But in return, you gotta send me the English homework.”
With Peter’s birthday coming closer, you and Ned spent a lot of your free time trying to narrow down your options for a gift. The two of you had been on every shopping site known to man, but so far you only had a few things picked out, none of which that stood out to you.
“I wanna make this special, I finally have money of my own so I’m actually able to get him something nice.”
Ned glanced over his laptop screen to give you a look. “Oh okay, I get it now.”
Ned’s smile got wider. “You know.”
“I really don’t.”
“You know..,” He said, waggling his eyebrows. “You having a thing for Peter.”
“Oh come on,” You said, going into full denial mode. “Seriously?”
“Eh, you can deny it all you want. But everyone else notices the doe eyes.”
Your eyebrows shot up. “I do not make doe eyes.”
“Maybe, but Peter does.”
“Hey, do you wanna come over and hang out for a bit?” Peter said, showing up at your locker as you started to shove your things into your backpack. “I can order pizza.”
“Ah man, I would. But me and Ned have to do something.” You told him, trying to give him as little detail as possible.
“Oh, that’s okay. I can just tag along instead?”
“No!” You said, much too quickly. “I-I just mean, it’s kind of a me and him thing, y'know?”
Peter didn’t know, but he wasn’t about to tell you that. “Yeah, yeah. It’s fine, don’t even worry about it.”
“You’re a doll,” You told him, giving his shoulder a punch. “But we’ll hang out soon, okay?”
Peter didn’t even have time to reply before you took off down the hall.
That was incredibly weird, even for you.
But he was interested in what the two of you were doing. Most of the time, all of you hung out as a collective group. There was the off occasion when Peter would invite you over, but that was more because Aunt May liked having you over for dinner every now and then.
Peter just wasn’t under the impression that you and Ned were that close.
“So, are you free tonight to come over? Aunt May’s making in dinner and wanted me to ask you.” Peter said, once again at your locker after the school day ended.
Just as you were about to answer, Peter could see walking up from the opposite end of the hallway.
“Sorry, Pete. Ned and I are doing something.”
“Again?” Peter couldn’t help but feel a little irritated at this point. The two of you had been running off almost everyday for the past week, and each time he was left out of the circle. He’d try and work his way into tagging along, but you were dead set on Peter not being where you two went.
“Yeah, but I’ll stop by tomorrow, okay?” You said, giving him a smile before catching up with Ned.
Peter’s brows furrowed together. What were the two of you doing?
You looked proudly down at Peter’s present, you had spent the night trying to figure out how to wrap it in the most neat way possible. You had even gone out to buy some fancy ribbon to place around the whole thing.
It had taken some time, but you and Ned finally came up with the perfect idea for a gift for Peter, and you were quite happy with it.
Carefully placing the present into your bag, you left a small note on the kitchen counter for your parents to read so they knew where you’d gone.
You practically sprinted the whole way to Peter’s apartment complex, coming up to the door and knocking rapidly.
Peter was the one who answered, and you instantly pulled him into a hug. “Happy Birthday!”
You had caught him off guard, half because you actually showed up and the other half because of the sudden hug.
“Thank you,” He said with a laugh, returning it before showing you inside. “I’m surprised you made it.”
“Of course I’d make it, what do you mean?”
“Just like, the whole thing with running off with Ned, like every day for the past week.” Peter explained, trying to say it in the least bitter way possible.
“Oh no,” You said, reaching around to pull his gift from your bag. “He was just helping me pick this out for you.”
Peter slowly took it from you. “You didn’t have to.”
“Yeah, but I did,” You said, practically bouncing from excitement. “Open it!”
Peter laughed, starting to undo all the nice wrapping. “Oh wow,” He said quietly once he could see enough of the box to know what it was.
Peter looked up at with wide eyes. “Oh wow.” He said, flipping open the box and pulled out a camera.
You gave him a broad smile. “Do you like it?” You asked him, setting the box on the sofa while you moved to stand beside him. "It’s not very fancy, but I thought it was perfect to start out with.”
“No, No.” Peter said, carefully flipping it over as he examined it. “It’s perfect.”
“Good, took Ned and I days to decide on what to get you. You’ll get his present later though.”
“How much was it?”
“Doesn’t matter,” You said with a cheeky smile before pulling him to the fire escape. “Come on, let’s try it out!”
It was late into the afternoon, so the sky had already begun to shift into various shades of pink and oranges. “This is a great view, give it a whirl.” You encouraged.
Peter brought up the camera to his eyes, taking a second to get used to the features before the skyline came into focus.
He was just about to press the button when he glanced over at you and saw the pure expression of happiness etched across your face as you had all of your focus on the city.
Peter found himself aiming the picture at you instead, and that was when he took it.
“Did you get it? How does it look?” You asked him, still keeping your gaze outward.
Peter pulled the camera down and smiled at you. “Perfect.”