With Perseverance, sometimes called Percy, still on 8th day of its 6 months journey to the Red Planet. Let’s take a step back and go through history on how The Mars Exploration Program evolved. Just like in a very long flight, one might think of watching movies, eat, sleep and from time to time, peeking at your flight path overview(on your seat monitor). Then repeat. Just imagine for an average 19 hour international flight and what could you have recalled down memory lane.
Just like any other project, program or endeavor we should start of what’s the end in mind. Or, better yet, what’s the Goal? We should always anchor our actions/executions to this Goal. So that we can reap the greater benefit. Launching a very expensive science equipment to another planet, 300 million miles away from earth is not an easy feat and not anyone, any country can do. From launch and reaching Mars orbit there’s a ton of information already being collected and studied for future space exploration. We are not yet talking about data captured during the stay in the Red planet’s surface.
The Mars Exploration Program
The goal of the Mars Exploration Program is to explore Mars and to provide a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery through a carefully selected series of robotic orbiters, landers and mobile laboratories interconnected by a high-bandwidth Mars/Earth communications network.mars_exploration_program
Now we see the goal, let’s take a look on each mission and validate for ourselves the importance of the program. Let’s assess them with the following:
Was it successful? We’ll cover the Rockets used to propel these mission equipment. Also, taken into consideration the complex machine configuration onboard.
Number of days/months on its journey to Mars.
Estimated and Actual Mission Days in the surface of Mars.
A Sol ≈ 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35 seconds long. A Martian year ≈ 668 sols, ≈ 687 Earth days.
What is the most significant learning or discovery with that mission. Did the program went as expected?
The Mars Exploration Program Timeline
Orbiter and Lander; 2 built(Viking 1 & 2); Key Objectives were satisfied for a complex configuration.
- Launch successful. Both atop the Titan IIIE rocket and were launched a month a part. Viking 1 was launched August 20, 1975.
- Flight – Viking 2 was a month later after Viking 1 reach Mars orbit in Jun 19, 1976. Flight time was about 9 ~ 10 months.
- Sols – Let’s take into consideration the Landers. Viking 1 outlived Viking 2 with 1 Martian year. Viking 1 lived Mars at approximately 2,209 sols ≈ 6 Earth Years.
- Learn – credited with helping to form most of the body of knowledge about Mars through the late 1990s and early 2000s
- Launch – aboard a Delta II rocket and lifted off at Cape Canaveral SLC – 17 on Decembe 4, 1996.
- Flight – From launch to landing, it took 7 months for the Pathfinder mission to reach Mars.
- Sols – Mission ended September 27, 1997. 82 Sols for Pathfinder and and a much shorter 7 Sols for Sojourner. Not bad for a proof of concept.
- Learn – NASA proved an cost effective approach of developing and sending load of scientific instruments to another planet.
Rover mission type and another example of rover who outlived its expected Sols. It could have continued functioning if it wasn’t stuck in sand that covered it’s solar panels hampering the power.
- Launch – June 10, 2003 aboard Delta II rocket at Cape Canaveral.
- Flight – A successful landing in Mars on January 4, 2004. Flight took 6 months. A faster flight time than the previous missions.
- Sols – Expected mission days is at 90 Sols. But, amazingly reach 2,208 Sols.
- Learn – Geology of Mars and Geological Clues to an environment where water had previously existed.
Also known as Oppy and MER-B. The twin brother was MER-A. MER stands for Mars Exploration Rover.
- Launch – a successful lift off on July 7, 2003 atop the Delta II rocket at Cape Canaveral launch pad
- Flight – Just like the twin Spirit, Oppy spent 6 months journey to Mars.
- Sols- Stayed operation for 5111 Sols. Most Successful mission and traveled the 46 km of Martian surface. Same fate with it’s twin brother Spirit, got into a storm and dust covered the solar panels and went dead after being into hibernation.
- Learn – Mineralogy and Assess if environment is conducive to life.
Mars lander mission and a multi-agency program led by Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of University of Arizona.
- Launch – The ever reliable Delta II rocket powered Phoenix to space on August 4, 2007.
- Flight – 9 month journey and landed in Mars May 25, 2008
- Sols – Planned 90 Sols was had became 157. Martian winter dropped available solar power. Lander completed its mission August 2008. But, multiple attempts to wake the lander was unsuccessful and mission ended May 24 ,2020.
- Learn – Assess local habitability and search for trace of water in Mars.
Mars rover and one of the series of Mars Science Laboratory. This small SUV size rover was the first to incorporate “sky crane” upon it’s decent to the Martian surface.
- Launch – With it’s weigh consideration, Curiosity was sent to space using the Atlas 4 rocket on November 26, 2011.
- Flight – It took an 8 months journey and land on Mars August 6, 2012.
- Sols – Curiosity still operation and have spent 2,845 Sols and already covered, approximately 23 km of Marian land.
- Learn – On board Curiosity are various high-tech science tools. Make no joke about this, it is a remove science laboratory in another planet. Packing tons of experiment tools to learn the Biological, Geological/geochemical, Planetary process(e.g. cycling of water and carbon dioxide) and Surface Radiation.
InSight – Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Cool acronym! A lander mission with most of its scientific instruments are made by European agencies.
- Launch – Atlas V sent InSight to space on May 5, 2018
- Flight – Experienced some schedule issues and finally took a 6 month journey and landed in Mars November, 26, 2019.
- Sols – Still operational and is planned for 709 Sols. Currently in Mars for about 603 Sols.
- Learn – Study deep interior and measure Seismic activity of planet Mars.
It’s not a secret that the ultimate goal of sending this probes is to find signs of life in Mars. We all seven mission already laid out and what can we conclude with the information above.
Launch – all are successful and mission reached or landed on Mars.
Flight – On average, a flight to Mars would take 7 months. But, launch on specific month differs accordingly and May ~ June time frame would get us to the Red Planet quicker.
Sols – This could be a case of planned vs actual. Most of the mission exceeded its planned stay on Mars. Out of the 7 only two is still operational(). Here’s a useful link for Earth Days to Martian Sols
Learn(mission) – Study Mars Surface and Deep structure if it once and can support life. Capture information for future missions and possibility of actual humans setting foot the red Martian soil.
|Program Name||Launch Date||Flight(Months)||Sols(Martian days)|
|Viking||August 20, 1975||10||2,209|
|Pathfinder||December 4, 1996||7||82(Pathfinder) 7(Sojourner)|
|Spirit||June 10, 2003||6||2,208|
|Opportunity||July 7, 2003||6||5,11,|
|Phoenix||August 4, 2007||9||157|
|Curiosity||November 26, 2011||8||2,845|
|InSight||May 5, 2018||6||603|
Perseverance is on its way more exciting days ahead for the journey still long. But, well expect for great discoveries with Percy on Mars. Hope you like this simple article. Appreciate your comments below.
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