“Mars isn’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell.”
-Sir Elton John
While the writer of the famous Sir Elton John ballad was of the opinion that Mars-named after the Roman God of war for its bloody-battlefield-esque appearance- wasn’t a suitable place to include in your search for a house on rent, notable engineer-entrepreneur Elon Musk would beg to differ. (Or pay to differ, seeing as he founded SpaceX for the exact reason).But Elon Musk- while being a pioneer in many other respects- wasn’t the first to want to explore Earth’s fiery neighbour.
Since time immemorial, Mars has been like a coveted university: it hold a record for having the most number of missions sent to any planet. Around 60% of spacecraft sent to Mars fail before completing their mission. That’s what made the success of the Twin Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, such a major breakthrough. Keeping in mind the recent demise of-what feels like- the Earth’s distant pet, Opportunity, we take a look at human beings’ obsession with the Red Planet.First Impressions with Mars: The earliest observations of the planet were from ancient Egyptian astronomers. It also finds mentions in some Chinese, Greek and Indian records.
The most notable telescopic observations came from the notable astronomer- Galileo Galilei. The first few missions sent to explore Mars were flybys, built by the Soviet Union. For the year of 1960s- a time when skateboarding and the Smiley face had just gained popularity- this was an advanced undertaking. Unfortunately, it could not yield significant results, as all the missions failed, either at launch, or during interplanetary orbiting.Mars 1 (1962 Beta Nu 1), an automatic interplanetary spacecraft launched to Mars on November 1, 1962, was the first probe of the Soviet Mars probe program to achieve interplanetary orbit. NASA then launched its own Missions to Mars, with the Mariner and Viking space-crafts.Major Breakthroughs:
- Mariner: What we know of Mars’ outward appearance today was because of The Mariner spacecraft launched by NASA. The first close-up shots of Mars came from the efforts of Mariner 4. The pictures clearly displayed impact craters.
- Vikings: After the Mariners, came the Vikings- two space probes consisting of an orbiter and a lander. These were the first two spacecraft to successfully land and operate on Mars. It was these probes that sent the first few photographs of geological details of erosions, islands and scour patterns on Mars.
- Mars Global Surveyor: launched on November 7, 1996 and began its primary mapping mission in March 1999. It observed the planet from a low-altitude. Among its key scientific findings, were pictures of gullies and debris flow features that suggested there may be sources of liquid water, like an aquifer, at or near the surface of the planet.
- Mars Exploration Rovers– this mission, involving the two twin rovers, Spirit and opportunity, was sent to Mars with the objective to investigate a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on the planet.
- Mars Science Laboratory mission and its rover, Curiosity, were launched by NASA in 2011. Currently, Curiosity is exploring Mount Sharp, where clues to the planet’s history may be found.
- Mangalyaan: Launched in 2015, by ISRO, Mangalyaan was India’s first interplanetary mission. It was one of the cheapest mission to go to Mars, and also became the fourth space agency to reach Mars.
- Water on Mars: Perhaps the most mind-boggling breakthrough was finding water on Mars. Earlier missions had provided some evidence in the form of hydrated salt deposits, ice deposits, etc, but the most substantial evidence came from European Space Agency’s orbiting Mars Express spacecraft. The data collected in a span of three years was combined by planetary scientists in Italy.
What the Future Holds: We live in a world with constantly upgrading innovations. It is always exciting to witness what the next step is, and even more so to predict the avenues that human inquisitiveness would lead to. In the coming years, with many countries wanting to launch their own space-toys to explore and investigate conditions on Mars- and with constant advocacy for human exploration, and possible colonization by the likes of Bob Zubrin and Elon Musk- we might even find ourselves starting afresh on a completely new planet- yet again having achieved the impossible, providing testimony to the combined power of human curiosity, an indestructible spirit and felicitous opportunity.