This is an exciting time for Martian exploration. When I began Mimi’s Life on Mars in 2018 there was already a lot of interest in this planet and whether life there could be possible. Since then, a lot of surprising and exciting discoveries have been made during various research missions to Mars.
Mars’s newest visitor
In February 2021 the USA’s space programme, NASA, or National Aeronautics and Space Administration, successfully landed a rover on the surface of Mars.
The rover, named Perseverance, is a robot that was sent to Mars to study the planet’s surface and to look for signs of ancient life.
Attached to the rover is a helicopter, Ingenuity. This is the first craft to fly on Mars and is able to take photographs of the planet from the air.
You can see some of the images taken by Perseverance and Ingenuity on NASA’s website.
Studying the red planet
Research into Mars has been going on for decades. The first photograph of Mars taken from space was in 1965!
The first craft to land safely on Mars were NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 landers in 1976. They were active for six and three years respectively, and sent back the first colour panoramas of the red planet.
Did you know? A panorama is an unbroken view of something, for example a mountain. When it refers to photography it is a technique that captures a very wide view of something, like in the black and white image below.
Red rover, red rover
At the time of writing, there are three active rovers studying Mars- Curiosity, which landed in 2012, Perseverance and China’s Tianwen-1, which landed earlier in 2021.
There are three inactive, older rovers on the planet’s surface- Opportunity, Sojourner and Spirit. In addition, there are older landers that are no longer running. There are also a number of American and Soviet craft that crashed on landing. As a result, they were never able to send data back to Earth.
In 2022 the Rosalind Franklin, a joint project between the European and Russian space agencies will join the other three active rovers.
Did you know? The difference between a rover and a lander is that rovers can move around while landers cannot. Viking 1 and 2 were landers, while Perseverance is a rover. In addition to rovers and landers, there are orbiters, which orbit around something, for example a planet, without landing.
Eighteen orbiter spacecrafts have been launched from Earth since 1971, eight of which are still active.
These orbit Mars as satellites, studying and photographing it from space.
In 2020 the United Arab Emirates space agency’s Hope (or Al-Amal in Arabic) probe joined the others.
Each of these rovers and orbiters are studying different aspects of the planet, such as its geology and atmosphere.
We’re sure to learn a lot about Mars in the years to come, and perhaps one day we’ll send a craft with human beings aboard. Would you like to go?
If you’d like to learn more about Mars, you can check out my last post, Making Sense of Mars. I’ll be back soon to write about what it might be like to actually visit Mars!