Amid the avalanche of news about the Mars Pathfinder landing, which heralded as well the first rover on the Red Planet, and facing a flurry of future exploration efforts, it is good to recall why Mars is such a promising target.
NASA realizes that with all of the balloons, landers, and rovers that will be studying Mars in the coming years, it would be much more convenient for each of them to have the ability to talk to the others. With this idea in mind, NASA has equipped all of the Mars probes, starting in 1998, with a relay device. This device will allow any craft on the surface of Mars to send information back to the Earth through the satellite with the relay. Scientists here can send messages back to the landers by using the orbiters also. This way they can talk to the landers on the far side of Mars, even when they can't be seen from Earth.
Why do we bother? Why has NASA chosen Mars as the planet to search for life? The Mars of today strongly resembles Earth of long ago. Mars is the only planet in our solar system that had an atmosphere and surface features that cover almost the entire range of history. Here on Earth, geological events have obliterated all surface features from the first billion years of Earth's existence, but on Mars, they still remain.
Perhaps by studying Mars we can take a peek at our own history. Traditionally the Red Planet has always been an attractive subject for imaginative science fiction. This fascination has led Earthlings to send spacecraft in search of the little green men--and women--from Mars.
Mission to Mars. An educational site created for the ThinkQuest contest.