Exploring Mars-The Red Planet
“Since ancient time, we earthlings have believed that ‘Mars’, the mysterious red planet carried warm pestilence and the need of human sacrifice. The Romans named ‘Mars’ as their ‘God of War’. The mystery possessed by this planet has always incited the curiosity of earthlings with an imaginary belief that there also exists and alien civilization like on earth. Several movies fed on this idea, in which green Martians with peculiar head and dressing, seen attempting to take over the earth.”
Until the sixties, the conception of tellurians was upto the movies, picturisation or upto what the scientist could see through telescope etc. Then began the space race and ‘Mars’ came out to be the favourite target for scientist’s curiosity. The starting of space research era rescued mankind in exploring the hidden secrets of universe. The USA and the erstwhile USSR, pioneered the space exploration with several of the space crafts and satellites sent on expeditions to study the Earth atmosphere, Weather, Oceans as well as Sun and the other celestial bodies and Planets as in Moon etc. All such expedition brought back invaluable information’s regarding the evolution and history of Earth, Moon and other Planets and celestial bodies.
`Mars’ and earth has almost equal rotational period at the axis. Mars takes 24 hours, 37 minutes, in rotating upon its axis, thus the Mars day is identical to an Earth day while earth takes approximately 365 days to rotate round the Sun, the Mars takes 687 days to make such one trip, because of its eccentric orbit. The gravity of Mars is one-third of earth’s , and atmosphere at Mars is much thinner than that at earth, as such the atmospheric pressure at ‘Mars’ is just 1% that of earth.
Exploring mystery of Mars
- In 1962, the erstwhile USSR launched Mars-1, successfully left Earth’s orbit but failed as the communication with the craft was lost enroute.
- The USA’s craft Mariner-3 launched in 1964, was also not successful when its solar panels could not be opened.
- The same years USA launched another spacecraft Marine-4 that sent 22 close photographs of ‘Mars’ revealing therein a cratered, desert surface.
- USA again launched Mariner-6 in 1969 that passed within 3400 kms of the planet and sent video of the equatorial areas as well as surface temperature and atmospheric pressure measurement of the planet.
- USA relaunched Mariner-7 in the same year of 1969 that passed over the Southern hemisphere and returned about 200 photographs. So far all the Mariners started by USA were flybys and none were meant to land at the surface of the planet.
- In 1971, USSR started an orbitor/lander Mars-2, but is crashed during a dust storm.
- Again in the same year USSR launched Mars-3 that made the first successful landing or Mars, transmitted 20 seconds of data until contact was lost in dust storms.
- The USA’s Mariner-9, launched in 1971, became the first US spacecraft to orbit ‘Mars’. It sent back the first high resolution images of Martian Moons Phobos and Deimos. The Mariner -9’s important discovery was the presence of huge volcanoes on Mars, larger than any in the solar system, so far known-Mariner-9 also found that the atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than that of earth, composed mainly of carbon dioxide, carbon mono-oxide water vapours and a little oxyzen. During this period, USSR also sent three more space crafts. Mars-4 in 1973, Mars-6 in the same years and Mars-7 again in 1973, but none was succeeded due to one or more technical causes.
Viking-1 and Viking-H by USA
In 1976, the Viking-1 and Viking-II spacecrafts sent by USA, were more successful. Viking-1, became the first US orbiter to have landed on the Mars. While Viking-II, sent in the same year, detected the presence of Argon and Nitrogen in the atmosphere of Mars.
- The spacecraft pathfinder, launched from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 4, 1996, landed on Mars on July 4, 1997 after inferring a 5000 km journey. Pathfinder sent back detailed photographs of a harsh landscape that bears sign of availability of water, a basic need for life. Path finder gave the strongest evidence that the Red Planet had an abundance of water millions of years ago. NASA initiated the Mars global surveyor on Nov. 7, 1996 the spacecraft began its mapping operations on March 27, 1998, explored the clear proof of an ancient hydrothermal system near the equator, it means that a thicker atmosphere had existed on Mars history.
- The rovers though sent very important information to the earth, yet it did not have much of the scientific instruments with it and can’t move far from its lander. The latest MER robots dispatched on Mars was designed as robotic geologists. The instruments and equipments packed into the rovers were primarily designed to look into the rocks. It is much longer vehicle, more than 180 kg in weight and able to travel tens of meters everyday and carries an entire set of scientific instruments with it.
We don’t know so far, when could we capable of sending human being to Mars. The failures of various missions sent to Mars, the huge cost involves in sending space crafts, are some of the reasons for hesitations in sending human being at present. So nothing like this has ever been endeavoured and it would take a number of test mission to prove out the concept.
The quest for knowing the mystery of ‘Mars’ is insatiable so far, yet the quest is going on each mission brings to us more and more information and varied knowledge about this red planet, and we hope to find more surprises on Mars in the times to come.