Rover Mars

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Planet Mars exploration got a breakthrough when on May 15, 2021, China achieved the great feat of placing a modern exploration rover on Mars. At the bottom of this page, there is a more detailed account of this event.

The USA and the USSR dedicated a large amount of human and material resources so that show the world the success of being the first to reach the Moon and then Mars.

The rover Perseverance dedicated to Planet Mars exploration 

Perseverance is a rover designed to explore Jezero Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission.

It was manufactured by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched on 30 July 2020.

After traveling about 470 million km the rover successfully landed on Mars on 18 February 2021 and  began its science phase.

The rover took about seven months to travel to Mars.

Perseverance carries seven scientific investigation instruments and possesses a total of 19 cameras and two microphones.

Perseverance. Planet Mars exploration
Diagram illustrating the locations of scientific instruments aboard Perseverance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover is carrying the mini-helicopter Ingenuity, an experimental aircraft that will attempt the first powered flight on another planet.

Perseverance. Planet Mars exploration
Perseverance in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California
NASA/JPL-Caltech

How long does it take to get to Mars?

Mars does not remain fixed in space. It travels around the Sun at an average speed of 90,000 km per hour.

Mars is at an average distance of 225,000,000 km from Earth.

A trip to Mars, in a spacecraft  going at 58,000 km per hour, would take between 5 and 8 months to reach the vicinity of the red planet.

In fact,

  • Mariner 4, the first spacecraft to go to Mars, took 228 days
  • Mariner 6, took 155 days
  • Mariner 7, took 128 days
  • Mariner 9, took 168 days
  • Viking 1, took 304 days
  • Viking 2, took 333 days
  • Mars Global Surveyor, took 308 days
  • Mars Pathfinder 212 days

The first attempts to get closer to Mars

The USSR dedicated a large amount of human and material resources so that the Soviet Union could show the world the success of being the first to reach the Moon and then Mars.

In June 1963, the first human probe to visit Mars was the Soviet Marsnik I, which passed 193,000 km from Mars, although without succeeding in sending any information.

Shortly after, in 1964 and 1969, the Soviets launched another 3 probes that failed in their missions to Mars:

  • Zond 2,
  • Mars69A and
  • Mars69B.

Year 1965. The Mariner 4 probe managed to transmit data from the vicinity of Mars.

Year 1969. The Mariner 6 and 7 probes only managed to observe a Mars full of craters and similar to the Moon.

In May 1971, Mariner 8 malfunctioned at launch and failed to reach orbit-

Also in May 1971, URSS Cosmos 419 (Mars 1971C), a heavy probe of the Soviet Mars program M-71, also failed to launch.

In mid-May 1971, Mars 2 and Mars 3 were successfully launched and reached Mars about seven months later, on November 27, 1971.

Mars 2 and Mars 3, were multipurpose combinations of an orbiter and a lander with small skis-walking rovers that would be the first planet rovers outside the Moon.

The lander of Mars 2 crash-landed due to an on-board computer malfunction and became the first man-made object to reach the surface of Mars.

On 2 December 1971, the Mars 3 lander became the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing, but its transmission was interrupted after 14.5 seconds.

December 1971. Mariner 9 managed to get into Martian orbit.

It made observations in the middle of a spectacular dust storm and was the first to glimpse a Mars with channels that looked like ancient rivers, also detecting water vapor in the atmosphere.

In 1973, the Soviet Union sent four more probes to Mars: the Mars 4 and Mars 5 orbiters and the Mars 6 and Mars 7 flyby/lander combinations.

Mars 4 flew by the planet at a range of 2,200 km returning one swath of pictures and radio occultation data, which constituted the first detection of the nightside ionosphere on Mars.

Mars 5 transmitted just 60 images before a loss of pressurization in the transmitter housing ended the mission.

Mars 6 lander transmitted data during descent, but failed upon impact.

Mars 7 probe separated prematurely from the carrying vehicle due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems and missed the planet by 1,300 kilometres.

Marsnik1. Planet Mars exploration
This picture shows a Marsnik spacecraft. Credit: NASA. Web “nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/masterCatalog.do?sc=MARSNK1”
  1. NASA’s Viking 1 and Viking 2 probes conducted biological experiments, albeit with negative results.

Probes sent to Planet Mars exploration after 1980

On July 4, 1997. The Mars Pathfinder probe landed successfully on Mars and made a small robot walk around the planet.

In the following decade, the 1980s, the two launches made in 1988 also ended in failure:

  • Phobos I and
  • Phobos II.

The last attempt by the Russians was in 1996, with the Mars96 that also failed.

October 2001. The NASA Mars Odyssey spacecraft is in orbit around Mars.

June 2003. The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Mars Express probe that is currently orbiting Mars.

Robots Spirit and Opportunity and planet Mars Exploration

Year 2004. A more scientifically ambitious mission took two robots Spirit and Opportunity that landed in two diametrically opposite zones of Mars to analyze the rocks in search of water, finding signs of an ancient sea or salt lake.

Above you see a brilliant artistic reproduction of the launch of these two robots.

Opportunity’s mission was planned to last only three months.

However, by the beginning of 2012 he had already completed 8 years on the surface of the red planet.

Opportunity found an unusual rock that is deposited on a rough Martian plain, a dark rock not much bigger than a basketball. Dubbed ‘Marquette Island’, this striking rock has occupied Opportunity for the past two months and is providing a better understanding of the mineral and chemical composition of the Martian subsoil.

On August 6, 2012, NASA confirmed that the Curiosity space probe had landed on the surface of the planet Mars and that it was 248 million km from Earth.

At the time of sending the arrival message, the Curiosity probe was in an area of ​​Gale crater.

It had traveled 567 million kilometers, since its launch date on November 26, 2011.

NASA had successfully completed the most complex robotic operation in the history of space exploration.

The six-wheeled rover, loaded with sophisticated scientific instruments, immediately began its research mission.

News of January 29, 2012. Opportunity, NASA’s tireless robot. The harsh Martian winters still do not affect Opportunity, the robot vehicle that has been on Mars since 2004.

Its six wheels are still operational and ready to face its fifth winter on Mars (each Martian year or has 686 Earth days). Its twin, Spirit, has been inoperative since March 2010, when the engines of two of its wheels broke down after being trapped in a crater.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

August 12, 2005. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe was launched, which reached the orbit of Mars on March 10, 2006 and has as its main objectives the search for past or present water and the study of the climate.

The Phoenix probe landed near the north pole of Mars.

It achieved its primary objective, which was to deploy a robotic arm and survey at different depths to examine the subsoil, determine if there was or could be life on Mars, characterize the climate of Mars, study geology and carry out studies of the geological history of water , a key factor to decipher the past of the planet’s climatic changes.

The robotic vehicle “Mars Curiosity”

On November 26, 2011 NASA launched its most ambitious mission to explore the planet Mars.

The Atlas V booster rocket was launched from the Kennedy Space Center of the Air Force in Florida.

In the Atlas V rocket travels the robotic vehicle “Mars Curiosity” (a versatile all-terrain laboratory mounted on six powerful wheels that will allow it to move with great autonomy on the soil of Mars.

It arrived at its destination in August 2012 to investigate whether it existed on Mars some kind of microbial life, its operational life is estimated to be at least 14 years.

Mars Curiosity carries a battery of navigation cameras equipped with wide-angle lenses, with a full field of view.

Spain provides a meteorological station, the development of which has been led by the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA). Its mission is to monitor environmental conditions,  processes and radiation levels on the surface of Mars. The goal is to find potentially habitable environments.

Curiosity. Planet Mars exploration
Artist’s conception of the Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In March 12, 2013. NASA claims that the planet Mars may have supported life.

The data sent by the robot Curiosity indicates that in the Yellowknife Bay area, where Curiosity was exploring, there was a river or a small lake that could have harbored the chemical components necessary to create favorable conditions for the life of microbes.

As explained by NASA, the keys to this habitable environment come from the data from the analysis of samples carried out by the Chemistry and Mineralogy instruments that Curiosity has.

China also reached Mars.

On July 23, 2020, from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, the Chinese probe called “Tianwen-1” undertook a journey of almost 7 months in the direction of the planet Mars.

The “Tianwen-1” probe entered the orbit of Mars on February 10, 2021, 203 days after leaving China.

Tianwen-1 consisted of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover named Zhurong.

From February 10 to May 13, 2021, the Tianwen-1 orbiter was examining the surface of Mars, and taking high-resolution photographs, in order to identify the safest place for the landing of the module that carried the rover.

Utopia
The plain Utopia Planitia. Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

Finally, the Chinese technicians chose Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of the planet, because it is an area free of craters and large rocks.

In addition, it appears that large amounts of frozen water may be present in the subsoil of this area.

Utopia Planitia is a gigantic crater, which was formed by the impact of a meteorite, millions of years ago.

The place where the crater is located, and the low elevation of the plain, means that there is more atmosphere there, which helped slow the descent of the lander.

Landing
A parachute helped the descent. Credit: Twiter by Diego Córdova, Argentine journalist.

This Chinese Martian rover, named Zhurong, successfully landed on the red planet, as announced by the country’s state media, on May 15, 2021.

The Chinese engineers had to follow the movements of the device with a lapse of time, since the current distance from Earth to Mars is 320 million kilometers, which means that radio messages take 18 minutes to get from one planet to the other

Rover
Artist’s impression of Zhurong on Mars. Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

Chinese scientists aim for the rover to be in service for at least 90 days.

To those who are interested in science fiction, I recommend reading two magnificent books published by Ben Bova, a writer with a good pen and remarkable scientific knowledge: “Mars” and “Return to Mars.” Both books are read with relish and you learn a lot about what we know about this mysterious planet, so similar to our Earth, and about the difficulties involved in exploring it by human beings. There is intrigue, science and suspense.

GOOGLE MARS. Similar in operation to Google Earth, but referring to the planet Mars: regions, mountains, plains, dunes, canyons, craters, landing zones for the Mars Rovers.