NASA's interest in Mars came alive again in 1989 when President George Bush was celebrating the 20th anniversary of landing on the moon. He called for a human mission to Mars. NASA needed no further encouragement and within 90 days they devised a dazzling plan to send humans to Mars. NASA's ambition is to get man on Mars by the year 2014. Missions to Mars over the years have brought back valuable information about Mars' surface and atmosphere.
On November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 became the first successful Mars mission. It flew within 6,117 miles (9,842 km) of Mars. It sent back the first close-up view black and white pictures of Mars. The pictures showed images of a barren, cratered surface. The hopes of a diverse landscape dimmed. Some of the information showed a weak magnetic field and a thin atmosphere with air pressure that equaled about 1% of the atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth.
The Viking mission consisted of the orbiter and the lander. The Viking Lander was the first robotic craft to land on Mars. It was launched in August of 1975. The Viking was sent there to record the changes in the seasons and landscape of Mars. The Viking recorded slight seasonal changes in the landscape from summer to winter. It recorded slight changes in the color of the dust due to the winds. It showed frost that sometimes forms in the winter and found a small amount of nitrogen that is needed for life.
The Mars Pathfinder was launched in 1998. This was an extremely important mission because of the information it collected from Mars, including 1,600 images, 15 chemical analyses of rocks, and extensive data on windstorms and other weather factors. With the help of the solar-powered rover called the Sojourner, it looked at special rock forms to see if life existed in them. Some of the rock forms they looked at were names of cartoon characters such as Scooby Doo, Casper, and Mini, so that it was easy for the scientists to refer to them. The Pathfinder was equipped with a solar operated stereo camera allowing scientists to view the surface as it traveled.
Click here for NASA photos from the Pathfinder mission.
One of the latest projects to Mars is the Mars Global Surveyor. It involves the launching of two spacecrafts, the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander. The Orbiter was launched in December, 1998 and the Polar Lander was launched in January, 1999. The purpose of the launching of the orbiter is to study the planet's climate and current water resources. The Polar Lander began its 11- month journey to land on the southernmost icy pole on Mars. It is like a weather satellite and is designed to gather pictures and send information back to Earth. The craft has a microphone to listen to the rush of the Martian wind. It also had 2 probes to measure the underground temperature of Mars.
This chart is a chronological listing of Mars' missions and its accomplishments.
To see photos and animations of the Mars Global Surveyor mission from NASA click here.
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