Planets and stars, outer space and astronomy have fascinated people since ancient times. We have been trying – with varying degrees of success – to gather information that could help us understand them all a little bit better.
Mars is one of the planets in theSolar System. We call it the ‘Red Planet’ because its surface is covered with the mineral iron oxide which gives it a red colour. Mars has so many similarities to the Earth that it has been a centre of attention for astronomers for more than 50 years.
After a few failed attempts in the beginning of the 1960’s, Mariner 4 succeeded in sending back to the Earth the first picture of the surface of Mars in 1964. In 1971 Mars 2 and 3 (which were the first Mars rovers) successfully reached the Red Planet but Mars 2 crashed when landing and Mars 3 stopped communicating only 14,5 seconds after landing. Thanks to Viking I which landed in 1976 and remained active for 2307 days scientists received more detailed pictures of Mars and information about the soil. Viking I was also equipped to perform biological tests in search of living organisms. Mars Pathfinder was the first rover to actually land on Mars.
On July 7, 2003 two robotic rovers were launched from the Earth – Spirit and Opportunity. Each rover has six wheels; they are 1,5 m high and weigh 180 kg. They are powered by solar panels so the frequent gushes of wind on Mars are a great problem – more dust on the panels means less energy for the robots to operate. The rovers are equipped with various cameras, instruments and a robotic arm for collecting and examining rocks, soils and minerals. They communicate with the NASA-teams through two antennae and can rove around with a speed of 0,18 km/h. Spirit exceeded all expectations of ow it was going to perform – its mission was supposed to last only 90 sols (about 92 days) but it lasted 5 years, 3 months and 27 days. It got stuck in soft soil in 2009 and all attempts to free it were unsuccessful. The last communication with Spirit was on March 22, 2010. Opportunity did even better – it is still operational today. During Martian winters solar energy is so low that the twin rovers remain stationary in order to conserve their power.
In 2011 NASA launched yet another Mars rover – Curiosity. It landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. Curiosity is a robotic rover, weighs 899 kg, is 2,9m long and 2,2m high. It has even more cameras than its predecessor, allowing it to take better pictures in true colours and even selfies!! It has on board various instrument such as an X-ray spectrometer, a microscope and laboratories. They all help Curiosity in achieving its main goals – studying the climate and geology of Mars, the surface radiation and searching for water. And trying to answer the most important question – if the Red Planet has ever been home to any form of life.
Solar System – the system of all planets that orbit the Sun, with addition of the moons, asteroids, comets
similarity – resemblance
NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
sol – the duration of a day on Mars – 24h, 39min and 32,5 seconds
to exceed – to surpass, to go beyond
soil – the upper layer of the surface of a planet
stationary – not moving, immobile
predecessor – something or someone who comes before