The one small step taken by Neil Armstrong was a giant leap for humanity. There was no profit in that step, no monetary gain, no power acquisition, no land takeover. It was purely to push humanity ahead. To make a mark and give proof of our growing knowledge and technology. About 50 years from that significant step, we are planning on taking the next ‘small step giant leap’.
This time, it’s not the silvery sphere, but the red brother, Mars. Rovers and satellites have been sent to Mars from many countries in the past decades. It isn’t an easy feat to achieve and out of the 56 missions that were planned, only 26 were successful. You can imagine the difficulty of such tasks. Now, Mars landing has a different and difficult protagonist, humans.
The past Missions that we succeeded in.
Here’s the list of all the missions to explore the Martian world by different countries. It is an elite group of countries who have achieved this marvelous feat and they should be put on a high pedestal because their achievement does not involve annihilating humanity, but proliferating it.
NASA has a sense of humor when it comes to naming its Mars landing missions. The Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey was the source of inspiration for naming the mission as it took place in 2001. This spacecraft holds the record for the longest operating Mars orbiting craft. It is planned to operate until 2025. The purpose of this craft was to study the Martian surface and look for the distribution of water. It also serves as the communication relay between Earth and Martian rovers.
Mars Express, 2003
This orbital craft was launched in 2003 to survey and study the Martian topography and determine the ice-caps and the atmospherical composition of Mars. It was successful in achieving all it was sent for. It has provided data that has formed the structure of our Martian knowledge. The craft will be operated till 2026. It is also to be noted that along with Mars Express, European Mars Landing rover, the Beagle 2 was also launched but it malfunctioned while landing.
Mars Opportunity and Spirit.
The most famous of all the Mars landing mission not just of NASA, but the whole world. These two rangers were launched in 2003 and initially were planned to work for just 90 days. However, these rovers kept working, exploring the alien terrain of the red planet and kept giving us data. Spirit worked till 2010 while Opportunity bid its goodbyes in late 2018 which goes down as the most emotional goodbye by any rover. Although it was paraphrased to make it look more human, the last words by Oppo were “it’s getting dark and my battery is low”
This wasn’t a Mars landing mission, but rather an orbiting and surveying mission. Hence the name ‘reconnaissance’ which means surveying to get a better strategic idea suits it very well.
Launched in 2005, this craft began orbiting the planet in 2006. Since then it has provided data like saltwater streams on the surface as well as finding a safe landing zone for the Phoenix Lander.
Mars Curiosity Rover, 2011
This Mars landing mission is one of the most popular Martian missions. As the name suggests, the rover’s ‘curiosity’ lies in finding microbial life on Mars whilst surveying the planet carefully to see if it can sustain a possible future manned mission. The rover successfully found organic molecules in 2018. There are also several documentary shows about the rover and its journey on Mars.
Mangalyaan (Mars orbiter Mission, MOM), 2013.
The first non-American orbiter in the list, the Mangalyaan is the orbiting spacecraft by the Indian Space Research organization and was launched in 2013. The name Mangalyaan translates to Mars spacecraft in English. The craft was employed to study the atmosphere of the planet, provide telemetry data, etc. The craft shows India’s increasing prowess in the space industry. The most impressive thing about the mission was that it was extremely cheap when compared to other similar projects. It cost them only $73 million U.S. For comparison, the movie ‘Gravity’ cost $100 million in the U.S.
Maven stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission. We now know that Mars once had an atmosphere and it is losing the feeble amount that is left with it. This is thanks to the data from MAVEN. It also found out that the Martian magnetic field is disrupted by the solar winds and is in the shape of a tail, unlike an encompassing cusp of Earth. New data is still getting transmitted and the investigation continues to find more about the cause of Martian destruction. This was a Mars orbiting mission and not a Mars landing mission.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, 2016.
The European and Russian joint mission to understand both the gaseous composition of the Martian atmosphere like the presence of methane and carbon. The European TGO was an orbiter while the Mars landing EDM lander from Roscosmos. The lander crashed unfortunately but the orbiter is searching and sending data. The presence of methane could an indication of life as many methanogenic bacteria produce methane as a by-product of their life process.
InSight Mars Lander
Another Mars Landing mission by NASA which has successfully landed on the surface is planned to investigate the core of the planet to shed light on seismic activities. Studying the plate activity of the planet is important to understand the suitable locations for settlement. It will also give us an idea about how rocky planets are formed.