NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is focused on discovering whether Mars was, is, or can be a habitable world. Mars has many similarities to Earth, including systems of air, water, ice, and geology.
However, it remains unknown whether Mars ever had a biosphere where life could thrive. To answer this question, NASA is following the “Seek Signs of Life” exploration strategy, which builds on the previous theme of “Follow the Water”.
Previous missions have already uncovered evidence of past water on Mars, and the Curiosity rover is now searching for organic compounds, the building blocks of life. Future missions will continue to look for evidence of life in areas where water and organic chemicals are present, as they are the key ingredients for habitable conditions. It’s an exciting time for space exploration as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet.
The goal of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is to learn more about the Red Planet while concentrating on the crucial issue of whether Mars has ever been a habitable planet. Investigating Mars’ geologic past, atmospheric makeup, and potential resources to support human missions are some of the programme’s primary goals.
Scientists hope to find signs of past or present microbial life by studying the planet’s volcanic activity, tectonic movement, the effect of asteroids, as well as its atmosphere and climate. In the end, this programme lays the groundwork for upcoming human missions to Mars, where people will investigate and perhaps even colonise the amazing and enigmatic planet.
- Determine if Life Ever Arose On Mars:
NASA will launch multiple missions over the next 20 years to investigate the possibility of life on Mars. The first step is to assess whether the planet could have ever sustained life.
Conditions Needed for Life to Thrive
If life ever evolved on Mars, it likely existed in the presence of water, just like on Earth. NASA will be searching for evidence of past or present water, particularly in areas where liquid water was once stable or where it may still exist underground.
Energy is also crucial for life, so future missions will be looking for sources beyond sunlight, such as chemical or geothermal energy. Interestingly, the presence of “superoxides” on the surface of Mars make it unlikely that life could survive there, but subsurface microbes may be able to use alternative energy sources to thrive.
Looking for Life Signs
NASA will search for signs of life on Mars by looking for biosignatures of current and past life. Carbon, a fundamental building block of life, will be a key element to track. Carbonate minerals, formed by reactions between water and the Martian atmosphere, would indicate the presence of water and a potential environment for life.
NASA will also search for fossil-like deposits in areas where lakes or streams may have once existed. However, identifying life on other planets is a challenge as it may be very different from life on Earth. Developing life detection technologies that can detect life in all its varying forms and characteristics is crucial.
- Characterize the Climate of Mars
Mars has a dynamic climate that is heavily influenced by seasonal changes in the carbon dioxide ice caps, dust movement, and water vapor exchange. One of the most dramatic weather events on Mars are dust storms that can engulf the entire planet during southern spring and summer.
Monitoring Mars’ weather trends and atmospheric conditions
It is first necessary to comprehend Mars’ current climate in order to comprehend its history. Over the course of a Martian year, we can learn more about the planet’s behaviour by observing its weather trends, dust levels, and water vapour content.
Because of the layered terrain in the polar regions, which serve as a record of Mars’ past, they are a useful source of knowledge as well. We can better comprehend how the planet turned into the icy, arid desert it is today by providing answers to queries about the past climate and geological changes on Mars.
- Characterize the Geology of Mars
The geology of Mars will be studied to understand how the planet’s surface was formed and modified by various processes such as wind, water, volcanism, tectonics, and cratering. Mars has large volcanoes that can be 10 to 100 times larger than those on Earth, mainly due to the crust not moving the same way as it does on Earth.
Studying the Ancient Magnetic Field for Insights into Mars’ Past
Mars once had a magnetic field, just like Earth, and large areas of magnetic materials have been discovered on its surface. This magnetic field may have shielded Mars from cosmic radiation and could hold the key to unlocking evidence of past life on the planet.
Additionally, studying the ancient magnetic field can reveal important information about Mars’ interior, temperature, and composition in the past. The presence of a magnetic field suggests that Mars was once more Earth-like and dynamic than it is today.
Mars rocks: Time capsules of the planet’s past
Scientists are excitedly examining the age and makeup of the rocks strewn across the surface of Mars to solve the mysteries of the planet’s ancient history. These rocks act as time capsules, preserving important details about the crucial moments in Mars past. Given that water is an essential component of life as we know it, it is especially crucial to identify rocks that were formed in the presence of water.
What other mysteries do these rocks contain, though? What additional historical hints might still be hidden on the planet? Future trips to Mars will use new tools and technologies to help us solve these mysteries and create a more thorough history of the red planet.
- Prepare for the Human Exploration of Mars
Sending humans to Mars is an incredibly complex engineering feat that requires a deep understanding of the planet’s environment. The safety of the crew and the success of the mission depend on it. That’s why the Mars Exploration Program is actively working to tackle these challenges in the coming years, with the ultimate goal of making human exploration of the Red Planet a reality.
Understanding Radiation Environment on Mars for Safe Exploration
The protective ozone layer that the Earth has, which protects us from dangerous ultraviolet radiation, is absent from Mars. As a result, there is a major risk to astronauts’ health and safety due to the unknown quantity of UV radiation that reaches the Martian surface.
We need to learn more about the radiation environment on Mars in order to make sure that astronauts can investigate the world safely. This will make it possible for us to determine how UV radiation affects people and appropriately design safeguards and habitats.
In addition to UV radiation, the soil on Mars also has unusual chemicals dubbed “superoxides.” These superoxides degrade organic molecules when subjected to ultraviolet light. Although superoxides are not anticipated to have a serious impact on astronauts, it is crucial to fully comprehend their impact as well as that of any additional peculiarities of Martian soil before sending humans to investigate the planet.
Robotic Missions: Paving the Way for Human Exploration of Mars
The Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions will analyze the radiation environment and search for water resources on Mars to support future human explorers. Advanced landing techniques and robotic exploration will pave the way for potential human missions. NASA’s Johnson Space Center is leading the scientific and technological work for this goal.
Robotic missions that prepare the way for secure and effective human transport are paving the way for human exploration of Mars. Missions like Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and 2001 Mars Odyssey are looking for water sources on Mars and studying its radiation atmosphere.
For the safety of spacecraft and astronauts, advanced entry, descent, and landing techniques are also being created. Leading the scientific and technological research required to make manned missions to Mars a possibility is NASA’s Johnson Space Center.