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Could Mar's Missions Help Provide Us With Better Design for Future Explorations?

Updated on September 9, 2015
Mars | Source


Because Mar's is our closest neighboring planet that lies within the same habitable zone as our own planet, it has likely always been a candidate of interest in our search for extraterrestrial life.

Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory composed and erected 10 space craft that they dubbed Mariner. Although Mariner's primary mission may not have focused exclusively on Mar's, it was the first mission to explore the red planet, as well as Venus and Mercury. (It isn't until much later that we prompted study exclusively for Mar's potential habitability.)

All of the Mariners were relatively small in size, weighing less than half a ton. These robotic explorers were designed primarily to explore our inner solar system---Venus, Mars and Mercury for the first time in history. Mariner 10, the final of the missions, flew past Venus before going on to Mercury. It completed just three flybys of the closest planet to our Sun. Mariner 9 equitably acquired notable recognition in history when it became the first ever to orbit another planet. For the duration of about a year, Mariner 9 orbited Mars, mapping the planet's surface and recording measurements. Each of the Mariner missions typically concluded within a few months to one or two years.

Mariner 2 SpaceCraft
Mariner 2 SpaceCraft | Source
Mariner 10 SpaceCraft
Mariner 10 SpaceCraft | Source

More about Mariner..

The Mariner Program was to commence by sending two spacecraft to Venus. The mission was sanctioned by NASA in August of the year 1961. Unfortunately, Mariner 1 was destroyed at launch July 22, 1962 when the rocket that was carrying it veered off course. Auspiciously the Mariner 2 was successfully launched the following month, August 27, 1962. This was the inauguration of the 3-1/2 month flight to Venus.

It wasn't until November 28,1964, with the successful launch of Mariner 4, that we began our first mission to Mars. (The prior launch of Mariner 3 on November 5, 1964, was unsuccessful.) Mariner 4 flew past Mars on July 14, 1965 recording the first ever close up pictures of another planet. After retrieving the first ever images, it was discovered that the red planet had lunar-like craters on much of its surface. The Mariner 4 spacecraft was expected to survive at least 8 months and exceeded it's mission by 3 years in solar orbit, advancing long term studies of solar wind. It also made coordinated measurements with Mariner 5. (Mariner 5 was launched to Venus in 1967.)

Mariner 6 and 7 was the first ever completed dual mission. But produced little results. They flew over the south polar and equator regions and examined atmospheric conditions of the planet with remote sensors. It also delivered hundreds of images of the planets surface, although both crafts failed to discover both colossal northern volcanos and equatorial grand canyon. Those were later discovered by the Mariner 9 mission.

Mariner 9 was launched May 1971 and attained orbit into Mars in November 1971. Mariner 9 observed that a sizable dust storm had concealed the entire globe of the planet. Because the space craft was programmable and used digitable taperecording rather than film, it was essentially able to "wait out" the storm. Once the storm cleared Mariner 9 was able to obtain clear, high quality imagery. It provided the first close up of Mars' two moons---Phobos and Deimos.

Mariner 10 was the last craft of the Mariner Mission. The blazing inner planet, Mercury was the leading target of this mission. An arbitrary gravity abetment allowed the space craft to return at 6 month intervals and allowed the space craft the carefully map half of the planet. Unfortunately Mercury's other half was always too dark upon Mariner 10's arrivals due to it's slow rotation.

Viking 1
Viking 1 | Source

Viking Mission

The Viking Project was the pinnacle of a array of missions that began with the Mariner 4 mission in 1964 and continued through the Mariner 9 orbital mission. Viking was the first American mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars.

Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975 and Viking 2 was launched September 9, 1975. Viking 1 entered orbit on June 19, 1976 and Viking 2 synonymously began orbiting August 7, 1976. After surveying the planet, Viking 1 landed on the western slope of Chryse Planitia. Viking 2 commenced landing September 3, 1976 at Utopia Planitia.

The Viking mission was exceptionally prevailing in that it exceeded beyond it's designed lifetime by four years.

Curiosity Rover
Curiosity Rover | Source

More Recent Exploration

The Mariner and Viking missions were two of the most important Mars missions prior to more recent exploration techniques. It was the beginning of an evolutionary space exploration process. Since these missions, we've obtained a much more vast array of technological advances that help us acquire more detailed data.

Curiosity is a large mobile laboratory that landed within the Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. Recorded measurements took place a month prior to it's landing. The recorded data of radiation levels from Earth to Mars, will help scientist design for astronaut safety during the eventual first human mission to Mars.

Curiosity was a massive innovation for martian atmospheric composition analyzing. The rover obtained it's first scoops of soil on the way to Yellowknife Bay. Once arrived at location, it obtained the first ever material drilled from martian rock. The analysis from the rock sampling provided evidence favorable for primordial martian life. (mineralogical evidence for sustained liquid water). Data showed that the Gale Crater was once a lake of liquid water that persisted for a long period of time.

Once the mission to Yellowknife was completed, the rover continued on to investigate Mount Sharp, hoping to find further evidence for a habitable past. Curiosity reached Mt. Sharp in September of 2014 and has since provided us with many high definition photos of the planet's surface. Although, the Curiosity's primary mission was 23 months, just as it's exploratory predecessors, it has outlived it's designs lifespan and continues to relay data to Earth. It is estimated that Curiosity could operate anywhere from 10-15 years.

How Could Mar's Missions Improve Other Planetary Research?

Given the phenomenal design of the Curiosity Rover and even our earlier space crafts (Mariner and Viking) having been able to notably exceed their expected lifespans, I think continuing to implement similar design while also applying today's technological advancements, we could definitely bolster our future attempts of planetary observation via robotic satellites. The fact that we can (in a sense) obtain physical samples from another planet and/or extrasolar object, is remarkable. Being able to have more than just a rudimentary understanding of our Solar System, even the Universe is extraordinary and we reside within a wonderful generation of advancements. I expect that we will see many more before our time is up here.

Sample Analysis

Interesting Facts

  • After initial launch in 1962, while in route to Venus Mariner 2 measured solar wind for the first time in history.
  • It also recorded interplanetary dust as well as cosmic rays from outside the solar system.
  • During it's flyby of Venus in December 14, 1962 Mariner 2 examined the planet via infrared and microwave radiometers, which revealed that Venus has an incredibly hot surface and cool clouds.
  • Mariner 9 was the first artificial satellite of Mars.
  • Mariner 10 was the first two-planet exploration.
  • The Viking 1 and 2 landers were sterilized before launch to prevent contamination of Mars with organisms from Earth.
  • The original land site proposed for Viking 1 was determined unsafe by the Viking site certification team.
  • The Curiosity Rover is the first ever spacecraft to personally communicate with it's followers via it's own Twitter account.


National Aeornautics and Space Administration

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

California Institute of Technology


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    • Ruth Angel profile image

      Ruth Mata 2 years ago from New Mexico

      Exactly, I was astounded that half of the people i've spoken with about previous Mars missions, had absolutely no acknowledgement that our first explorations were ranging from the 1960-1974. I certainly hope it will spur further exploration attempts as well.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I'm obsessed with Mars and I hope we get there in my lifetime. Successfully landing on Mars will spur further exploration. At least I hope. We have had a lot of success getting to Mars and yet it is a struggle to get a concerted effort. Maybe it is a reflection of today's society. How many people know that we landed a craft on Mars in the 1970s? Not many. Can't believe we have not gotten back to the moon in 40 years. Great topic.