The Race To The Red Planet

NASA / JPL-CaltechMSSS / Getty Images

From humble beginnings, the race to Mars has become more intriguing in the last few decades. America, Russia, China, Japan, and even India have made various attempts to explore the Red Planet. Humans have set their sights on Mars and this has resulted in many successful flybys across the planet. Not content with just flybys, there were also successful flights across the orbit of Mars before eventual landing missions. The first successful orbital flight was the Mars 2 mission by Russia which was launched on May 19, 1971. The Mars 2 entered the orbit of the Red Planet on November 27, 1971. This was followed by the Mars 3 launched on May 28, 1971; it entered Mars’ orbit on November 2, 1971.

NASA sent the Mariner 9 for an orbital flight across the planet on May 30, 1971, which entered orbit on November 14, 1971. This was followed by the successful Viking 1 launched on August 20, 1975, which landed on Mars July 20, 1976, and operational for 2,245 sols. NASA eventually sent the Viking 2, another landing mission to Mars, launched on September 9, 1975; it remained operational for 1,281 sols.

Following these successful landings, NASA established various missions currently operational on the planet. Some of the operational missions on Mars include the Opportunity and Curiosity rover. The Opportunity rover has been operational since landing on January 25, 2004. The Opportunity rover was planned for 90 sols but has continued exploration for almost 5,000 sols. Opportunity has been analyzing soil, rocks, and mineral contents of the planet. The Curiosity rover has been operational since August 6, 2012. The Curiosity rover is exploring the planet’s Gale Crater as part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

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Almost five decades of exploration have prepared humans for the first crewed mission to the Red Planet. Elon Musk’s SpaceX program intends to send a selected number of humans on a one way trip to Mars in 2024. Another ambitious Mars project is the Mars One crewed mission proposed for 2031 and 2033. Mars One wants to send six groups of people to establish permanent settlements on Mars; each group is made up of four people. NASA has also set a goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. The journey to Mars is not for the faint-hearted as the planet poses many challenges for human explorers.

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The challenges of living on Mars according to Space include the density of the air, the absence of a radiation shield, and extremely cold weather. A day or sol on Mars is about 24.63 hours and the Martian year is approximately 684 days. The gravity on the planet is lighter than on Earth and humans will find it difficult to survive without the necessary equipment. A possible human landing on Mars in the future has been made possible by the efforts of decades of orbiters, landers, and rovers sent to the planet. A statement from NASA points to the fact that data received from the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers have also increased human knowledge of the planet.