The Mars Orbiter Mission is also referred to as Mangalyaan. It is a space probe that has been orbiting Mars from the 24th day of September 2014. It is operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). This mission is India’s maiden mission to Mars Interestingly, it is the first Asian country to get to the orbit of Mars. Also, it is the first on earth to do so on its first attempt. The spacecraft has three solar panels which produce its electric power. The then chairman of ISRO, G. Madhavan Nair announced the mission. It is said that the mission cost about US$ 73 million. The cost to date is considered the least expensive of all missions. It is attributed to scientists working for longer days, simpler designs, low costs for workers and limited ground tests.
What were the achievements and goals of the Mars Orbiter Mission?
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) achievements are many. First, Indian Space Research Organization thought that MOM would last for only six months. They were surprised because last year it celebrated two years in Mars. The MOM has sent its images to Earth which has given the scientists useful information about Mars. The Mars Orbiter assessed the deposits of dust in the planet’s slopes and valleys. It gathered data that proved the existence of water in the planet’s atmosphere. Also, the information assisted in understanding the variations of the ice spread during summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The data collected by Mars Orbiter has been of much help; it has assisted NASA in the viewing of Deimos and Phobos satellites. The ISRO had the following set goals for Mars Orbiter Mission:
- To preserve the Mars Orbiter in all stages of the mission.
- Fulfilling requirements of payload operation, power, thermal and communication.
- Exploring Mars so as to know more about topography, mineralogy and morphology.
- Learning more about the impact of radiation and solar wind. Also, it will observe the changing aspects of the upper atmosphere of Mars.
- It has examined the Martian atmosphere by the use of its remote sensing technique.
More achievements of Mars Orbiter Mission and Future plans by ISRO
The skills of Mars Orbiter Mission team in the exploration of Mars did not go unnoticed. For their efforts, they received the 2015 Space Pioneer Award in the category of engineering from the National Space Society. In awarding the team, the National Space Society expressed its captivation by the team’s success on its first mission. The spacecraft has assisted NASA to finish many of its space research. India has joined the other three countries in the world that have and are still exploring Mars.
The Mars Orbiter Mission has proved that India is capable of sending a spacecraft to Mars and it even outdid its other counterparts by succeeding in its first attempt. The probe has achieved success in its accomplishments of its scientific and primary objectives. The mission’s objectives focused on exploring Mars and demonstrating technology. Future plans for ISRO scientists are building Mangalyaan 2 which will be a joint mission between India and France, solar exploration programs and Venus Orbiter Mission scheduled for launch around 2017-2020 depending on availability of funds. ISRO is working on manned space program which will assist it in sending humans to space.
Mars is close to Earth in the solar system. Over the years, human beings have been imagining themselves living on another planet other than Earth. This curiosity has led scientists to come up with ways of exploring other planets. Since they did not know what to expect in Mars, Scientists decided not to send people there. The purpose of missions to Mars is to give a better perception of the planet. The researchers have used their knowledge to create devices that could be launched on Mars. Devices launched to Mars were long-standing orbiters which stayed for many years on Mars. Another tool used by scientists was the flyby which assisted them in collecting information in short bursts.
Mars missions in the 60s
Use of Flyby by scientists was successful in 1957. Up to now, four entities have managed to launch devices to Mars. These bodies include Indian Space Research Organization, NASA, the European Space Agency and the Soviet Union. The attempts made to launch spacecraft to Mars in the 1960s include the launch of Marsnik 1 and Marsnik 2. They were spacecraft by the Soviet Union. They, however, failed to get to the Earth’s orbit. Sputnik 22, also by the Soviet Union, was launched as a Mars flyby. They were happy that they made progress because this time round it reached the Earth’s orbit. In 1962, the USSR launched Mars 1, but its radio crashed when the spacecraft did 106 million kilometers. The USA launched Mariner 3. However, the shroud at ITS top refused to abandon. The missions mentioned above were unsuccessful, but the scientists never lost their faith. They continued to build other space crafts.
In 1965, the USA Mariner 4 was the first to fly by Mars. The Mariner 4 managed to transmit twenty-one photographs. The Mariners 6 and 7 when launching on Mars passed through craters. The scientists got the notion of likening Mars to the moon. The scientists received photographs from their Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 respectively. Other unsuccessful trials in the late 1960s include the launch of Mars 1969A by the USSR. It, however, did not reach the Earth’s orbit. Mars 1969B on its part collapsed on its launch while Kosmos 419 only managed to reach the Earth’s orbit.
Mars missions in the 70s
Some attempts were also made in the 70s. Mariner 8 was unsuccessful during its launch. Mars 3 orbiter landed successfully on Mars, and its lander managed to work for a few seconds, but its orbiter worked well. The Mariner 9 images revealed that Mars was filled with dust storms. The scientists also discovered a rift that they later called Valles Marineris. Interestingly, Mars 4 flew past Mars in 1974. Mars 5 reached Mars, but it continued to transmit data for only a few days. Mars 6 landed but failed to send back images due to its landing effect. Marine 7’s lander, unfortunately, missed the planet.
Viking missions were successful. Viking 1 and 2 transmitted their information for years to the scientists. The information assisted the scientists in expanding their knowledge about Mars. Another development of the Viking mission is that it sent the measurements of the Mars atmosphere. The results were that the components of meteorites were similar to those found on Earth. Scientists giving their conclusion said that this proved some meteorites found on Earth were initially from Mars. By the close of the 1970s, researchers had made some progress in understanding Mars thanks to the Viking Missions, Marine 9 and other spacecraft. This was all because these spacecraft were successful in sending back their information to Earth.
The Rover Spirit is a robotic rover. It is often referred to as Spirit or MER-A (Mars Exploration Rover –A) or MER-2. It was one of the two rovers NASA operated. The second rover that landed three weeks on Mars after the Spirit is called Opportunity or MER-B. Opportunity was regarded as Spirit’s twin. Spirit’s dimensions were 1.5 meters by 2.3 meters by 1.6 meters, and its rover dry weight was 185 kilograms. The Spirit is a solar-powered robot with six wheels, to aid it to move in rough terrains. Moreover, each of the six wheels was fitted with its own motor. The rover was launched to Mars in 2003. The Spirit was fitted with the following scientific gadgets:
- Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams)
- Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS)
- Magnet arrays
- Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT)
- Panoramic camera (Pancam)
- Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES)
- Microscopic Imager (MI)
- Navigation Cameras (Navcams)
- Mossbauer Spectrometer
Outlined Objectives of the Spirit Rover Mars Mission
The purpose of the Spirit Rover mission to Mars was to:
- Sample a range of soils and rocks that were formed by processes such as sedimentary cementation, precipitation, hydrothermal activity and evaporation.
- Evaluate the environments to establish whether it was favorable for habitation.
- Categorize coarseness of soils and rocks and also find out the processes that formed them.
- To establish ecological settings that were in place when there was liquid water by looking for geological indications.
- Finding out the structure and distribution of soils, minerals and rocks around the landing site of Spirit.
- Detect iron-containing minerals. It will also find and count specific minerals that were either made by water or comprise water.
- It will standardize findings given by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It will aid in knowing the usefulness and precision of apparatuses that gauged the orbit from Martian geology.
- It will also help in finding out geological process that has helped inspire chemistry as well as form local terrain.
The journey and discoveries made by Spirit Rover in Mars
Notably, Spirit outlived her 90-days scheduled mission. The spacecraft landed in Gusev Crater, and immediately the airbags flattened and retracted. In addition, the petals unfastened, and it deployed its solar arrays. Spirit surveyed Gusev Crater which was its landing site. It took scientific measurements and sent out images to Earth though it had lost one of its wheels. MER-A unearthed that long-ago Mars was wetter than it is now. This discovery assisted the scientist in their understanding of Martian wind. In 2009, Spirit was stuck in a pocket of soft sand. The scientists on Earth tried their best to remove Spirit from the soft sand, but their efforts failed. During this time, Spirit continued to transmit its data to Earth. The scientists were unable to direct the solar panels towards power for it to survive winter. Sadly, the last transmission sent to Earth by the rover was in 2010.NASA terminated the rover’s mission on the 25th of May 2011. MER-A traveled 7.73 km for its duration that lasted well over six years.
Efforts to trace life on Mars have always focused on studies on water sources in the past. Initial studies indicated that most of the water found on the Red Planet exists in the form of ice. This ice can be seen from the North Polar ice cap. The ice also exists at Mars’ South Pole and in the shallow areas of the subsurface. The ice at the South Pole, however, exists below the ice cap. The studies also showed that small traces of water occur as vapor in the planet’s atmosphere. However, recent findings by NASA suggest that water in liquid form occasionally flows on the red planet. These results show that water in liquid form flows down gorges and the walls of craters. This flow happens during the months when there is summer on Mars. Researchers say that this discovery has increased hopes of finding at least some form of life on the planet.
What were the details contained in NASA’s findings?
NASA arrived at the present findings following an analysis of images obtained from its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). From its pictures, scientists were able to detect signs of hydrated minerals present on the slopes where mysterious lines are spotted. Studies show that these streaks, which are dark in color, seem to recede and then flow in a given period. During the seasons when it is warm, (when temperatures are typically above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit) the streaks become dark and flow through the steep slopes. When temperatures cool, the streaks fade.
The downhill flows have often been thought to be associated with liquid water. To corroborate the finding, there has been a recent discovery of hydrated salts along these slopes. Scientists say that the dark color seen during the downhill flows and the hydrated salts have a close relationship. Researchers say that the salts lower the freezing point of the flowing liquid. The freezing happens in the same way as when salt poured on roads in our planet causes the rapid melting of ice and snow. With the melting caused by the hydrated salts, scientists say that it results in a subsurface flow that is shallow. During the flow, water comes to the surface, and this may be the reason of the darkening.
Discovery of Salts
Lujendra Ojha from Georgia Tech in Atlanta was a lead author of the report published by Nature Geoscience. The report addresses the findings by NASA. Commenting on the report, Lujendra observes that this team discovered the appearance of hydrated salts “only when the seasonal features were widest.” His team, therefore, opined that the hydration is either caused by the dark streaks on their own or, that there is a process leading to their formation. It is this process which causes the hydration. However, the discovery of hydrated salts in both cases leads to the belief that water has a pivotal role in the formation of the streaks.
There is no doubt that NASA’s missions to Mars have recorded many breakthroughs. In this latest discovery, the space agency says that it worked for many years and sent several spacecraft. The discovery of liquid water flowing on Mars is surely a huge stride made as scientists try to resolve another mystery; that of whether any form of life exists on the red planet.
The Rosetta is a spacecraft that was designed for a mission to Mars. The mission type of Rosetta was a lander or comet orbiter. The spacecraft launch mass was orbiter 2.900 kg and lander 100 kg. The dimensions of the probe were 2.8 *2.1*2.0 m. It had a power of 850 watts at 3.4 AU. The spacecraft was launched from the Guiana Space Center. It was assembled by the European Space Agency (ESA) and was launched on 2nd March 2004. The name Rosetta is coined from the Rosetta Stone, of Egyptian source containing a declaration in three scripts. The idea of Rosetta was envisioned in the early 1980s. It was even before Giotto mission where a flyby was made on comet 1P/Halley. The achievement of Giotto mission inspired the scientists to strategize a follow-up mission. The Rosetta mission eventually became the follow-up mission. The Rosetta mission was to provide more information regarding the composition of the comet by sending its information to Earth.
What happened during the Rosetta mission?
Rosetta was expected to be launched on 12th of January 2003 to meet Comet 46P/Wirtanen in 2011, but this was not the case. The reason for this postponement was that during its launch, there was a malfunction of Ariane 5 carrier rocket. The scientists and engineers decided to ground the spacecraft until the problem was addressed. Despite the postponement of the launch of Rosetta spacecraft, the mission itself made history. The mission made history because of the following reasons:
- It was the first spacecraft that used solar cells to manage to fly close to the Jupiter orbit.
- It made its first encounter with old objects when Rosetta passed through the asteroid belt.
- It was the pioneer spacecraft to track a comet’s nucleus.
- It was the first spacecraft to observe the sun giving its warmth to a frozen comet.
- The spacecraft was the first to travel beside a comet as it was journeying the inner solar system.
- Its robotic lander gathered the first representations of the comet’s surface, and it did an analysis of the same.
Notable Results of Rosetta Mission
Other than making history, the Rosetta’s results were remarkable. Below are the outstanding results of Rosetta Mission:
- The scientists found that the magnetic field of 67P fluctuated at forty to fifty Millihertz. For people to hear a rendition, researchers sped up its signal 10,000 times. However, the landing of Philae displayed that comet nuclear lacked magnetic field. Its earlier detection of a magnetic field probably was a result of solar wind.
- Degradation of carbon dioxide and water molecules discharged from the comet nuclear are enabled by photoionization of water molecules by solar radiation. It is not photons from the sun as previously thought.
Rosetta spacecraft made its observation that Comet 67P isotopic signature of water vapor is distinct from that found on Earth. Further, it observed that the water from the comet ratio of deuterium to hydrogen is three times that in terrestrial water. Therefore, it is doubtful that water on Earth came from comets such as Comet 67P.
The purpose of the Rosetta mission was learning about the comet ‘s activities, characters of the nucleus and determining the chemical compound present. Rosetta’s mission period was around twelve years. After a decade, the managers of the mission decided to end it by directing Rosetta down the comet’s surface. The decision would end Rosetta’s mission by impact. On touching the comet’s surface, Rosetta turned off its radio transmitter complying with International Telecommunication Union rules.
Mars is one of the planets in the solar system. It is referred to as the red planet due to its appearance. It is the second smallest planet after Mercury. Mars is just after planet Earth. It is believed that human beings can survive on Mars. Since Mars is one of the closest planets to the sun, it is considered a terrestrial planet. It is interesting to note that the planet can be seen from Earth. It comprises of minerals that contain metals, oxygen and silicon. Mars has been of great interest to the space arena and science for many years. Many people including scientists, astronauts and average people are curious about how it would be like for them to live on another planet. That is why organizations such as NASA are still examining whether there is life on Mars. This piece seeks to discuss whether life is possible on Mars.
Environmental Conditions of Planet Mars
The scientific search for life on Mars started in the 19th Century and is still ongoing. The searches were conducted through landing missions and telescopic investigations. Astrobiologists are of the opinion that water is essential when exploring for life. Scientists speculate that in the past, water from streams and rivers flowed on the surface of Mars. However, they believe that the water vanished into space. The scientists suggest that those early conditions on Mars could have supported life in the planet. Today, the planet is barren and dry with a majority of its water now in polar ice caps. To make matters worse, Mars has a thin atmosphere allowing radiation from the sun to reach its surface. The small atmosphere makes the environment inhabitable. The planet’s temperature average 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperatures can be low as 195 degrees Fahrenheit. The salts in Mars are corrosive and they can harm human beings and other organisms.
Scientists take on survival on Mars
Researchers confirmed three out of thirty-four meteorites had shown past the possibility of life on Mars. The three meteorites are:
- ALH 84001- it comprised of structures from remnants of bacteria-like life forms. In 2012, it was established that no life was involved in the formation of the structure.
- Nakhla- it was linked to DNA in earthly rocks. Its structure is still unknown, and no DNA was found.
- Shergotty –comprised of characteristics of microbial communities.
However, scientists believe that life on Mars is possible. They have offered many ideas that would go a long way to making life on the red planet possible. Spacesuits can be done to assist in keeping off radiation from the sun. A person can plant his or her crops in the Martian soil after doing away with poisons contained in the soil. Peoples’ habitat should be heated and pressurized to provide them favorable conditions on Mars. In 2016, NASA reported discovering underground ice. They have equated this volume of water with that in Lake Superior.
To date, the Scientists cannot confirm the past or present existence of life in Mars. The discovery of water on Mars does not help scientists know if life on Mars is possible. It only gives them hope of life in Mars. The scientists will continue to explore the possibility of life on Mars. NASA has scheduled other missions to Mars to continue their exploration.
In what promises to be an exciting prospect, the ESA and NASA have announced that they will be joining forces in their attempts to take astronauts to Mars. The announcement by two of the Earth’s largest space agencies is seen as a step to taking humans outside of the Earth’s orbit for the first time since 1972. That’s right. 1972 witnessed the last of the six landings on the moon by NASA. Ever since then, the furthest from the orbit of the earth that humans have gone is the International Space Station. Although the initial target of the cooperation between ESA and NASA is to take astronauts to the moon, the long-term view is to have manned missions to Mars. These missions would represent huge strides being made in the world of space exploration. Ever since mankind conquered the moon, manned missions to Mars has always been its next target.
What Have the Cooperating Agencies Planned in the Run Up to the Manned Mars Missions?
To begin with, the manned missions to Mars are heavily dependent on the success of the initial phase – a manned spacecraft that will orbit around the moon. This mission is expected to take place by 2021. During this mission to the moon, it is anticipated that the spacecraft will orbit around the moon in three extending orbits. It is then scheduled to return to Earth in what is expected to be the fasted re-entry ever done by a manned mission.
They have further joined hands with Airbus, the aerospace company from France. Airbus is expected to come up with the module that will get initially get astronauts to the moon. The module is supposed to have characteristics similar to Orion, which it has already sent to NASA. It is to be used in unmanned flights. Orion’s unmanned flights will, therefore, form the initial phase with the main aim being the testing of the spacecraft. Once successful, it will be followed by the manned flights to the moon. These flights are expected to have four astronauts, although the final number of astronauts will be arrived at after some other factors are considered. Once these flights are successful, they will be followed by manned Mars missions in the years that will follow. The tentative date for the manned Mars missions is set at around 2025.
ESA and NASA’s Cooperation Shows That Joining Forces is the Way to Go
The spirit of co-operation by space organizations is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is what led to the formation of the International Space Station. Over the years, there has been this realization that it has become increasingly difficult for a single space agency or country to send missions that are manned outside the earth’s orbit. Notwithstanding the fact there have been significant strides in the advancement of aerospace technology, the costs involved in preparing manned missions are prohibitive. The future, therefore, lies in the sharing of the resources and technology that is available. This exchange can only take place where space agencies and countries cooperate with each other. Cooperation, however, has been made difficult by some organizations which remain non-committal to the idea. Chinese and Russian agencies are the most notorious for these. They prefer to undertake space programs on their own.
Most observers will keenly follow the efforts of ESA and NASA with the hope that the agencies manned missions to Mars will materialize.
NASA’s efforts to investigate and look out for signs of life on planet Mars are set to go on. These efforts are in the form of the Mars Rover 2020 Mission. More specifically, the mission by the 2020 rover will examine specific regions of Mars where the conditions might have been conducive to life. In the course of the investigation, the rover is expected to collect rock and soil samples, and then store them on the surface. The researchers hope that the samples will then be taken back to Earth through another mission in the future. Once the samples reach Earth, they will be analyzed for signs of any form of ancient life on the red planet. The samples will also be analyzed in special laboratories for any potential health risks. These results will then influence how future missions by humans will be undertaken.
Where is the Mars Rover 2020 Expected to Land?
With the rover scheduled to land in February of 2021, NASA has chosen three sites where the rover could land. These sites were narrowed down from a pool of about thirty locations. The top picks by Nasa are Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis. Let’s briefly look at the characteristics of these sites and why NASA chose them.
The Jezero Crater is a prehistoric lakebed. A statement by NASA officials suggests that microbial life could have found a way to develop in the crater. It also has a structure similar to that of a river delta. From the look of this structure, it seems that water occupied the crater and then drained at least two times. Additionally, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter identified some minerals analyzed to have been chemically transformed by water.
Searching Possible Landing Sites
Another of the top three landing spots chosen by NASA is the Columbia Hills. Explored by the Mars exploration rover Spirit, it forms part of the enormous Gusev crater. It is the only spot on the crater where the spacecraft was able to find any signs of water. In fact, the exploration by Spirit revealed evidence of mineral hot springs in the past. These traces of water perhaps explain why Columbia Hills was shortlisted by NASA as one of the three potential landing sites for the 2020 rover.
The third landing site chosen by NASA is the Northeast of Syrtis. Research suggests that an ancient volcano resulted to the warming up of the area. The heat from this volcano could then have led to the formation of hot springs and the melting of ice. The two events could then have provided a perfect environment for microbial life to thrive. NASA specifically targets the edge of these volcanos. Scientists at NASA think that this site has a lot of minerals that were transformed through encounters with water. This transformation is suspected to have occurred during the early years of planet Mars.
However, the final decision as to the particular landing site will be probably made in 2018. This would be during the fourth workshop on the mission. Should the workshop not conclusively deal with the issue of landing sites, then a further workshop will be held in 2019. The criteria to determine the best landing site includes a place where the rover can land and travel safely, a place where there are a variety of rocks and soils to be analyzed, where the best environment that supported life existed and finally where there are rocks that would hold any indication of ancient life.