But first a little background.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) is an ongoing robotic space mission which has involved rovers, “Spirit,” “Opportunity,” and “Curiosity,” exploring the planet Mars. It began in 2003 with the sending of the first two rovers, MER-A “Spirit” and MER-B “Opportunity,” to explore the Martian surface and geology.
“Curiosity” is a car-sized robotic rover, exploring the Martian surface as of August 2012, and is currently the only active rover still in operation. “Curiosity” is nuclear powered, so it is not dependent on solar panels like the previous rovers.
Each rover has a total of 9 cameras. The rovers transmit their data to a spacecraft orbiting Mars, the Mars Odyssey, and then quickly relay the rover data to the Earth using their large and high-powered antennas.
The mission’s scientific objective was to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, which includes three previous successful landers: The two Viking program landers in 1976, and the Mars Pathfinder probe in 1997.
In May 2009, Spirit became stuck in soft soil on Mars. After nearly nine months of attempts to get the rover back on track, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) lost contact with Spirit after last hearing from the rover in March of 2010. Spirit was functional on Mars for over 6 years and 2 months, or over 25 times the original planned mission duration.
In January 2014, NASA reported that the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers will now be searching for evidence of ancient life, as well as ancient water, ancient rivers or lakes.
The search begins with determining whether the Martian environment was ever suitable for life. Life, as humans understand it, requires water, so the history of water on Mars is critical to finding out if the Martian environment was ever conducive to life.
How exactly do you drive a one-ton Mars rover, when the driver is, on average, 150 million miles away back on Earth? With a one-way time delay of around 13 minutes, it certainly isn’t a matter of sitting down in front of a monitor and waggling a joystick.
In short, there are two ways that rovers can navigate the surface of Mars. One, NASA can transmit a series of specific commands, which the rover then dutifully carries out, or two, NASA can give the rover a target, and then trust the rover to find its own way there using its onboard navigation system.
If you want to try your hand at driving a rover the way NASA does, you can go to http://www.marsquestonline.org/coolstuff/drivearover/
As a result of our exploration of Mars, we now know a lot more about Mars, but we have also stumbled across some things that pose more questions. Take a look at the following images from Mars and see what you think.
The original “face on Mars,” taken by Viking 1 as it orbited Mars.
Other images taken on Mars by one of the rovers:
Pretty interesting, huh?
And these are only some of the images that we have been allowed to see.
We can only imagine some of the images NASA has that we haven’t seen.
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