The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Orion spacecraft is still under development. Human spaceflight is not expected until 2035. Meanwhile, NASA's Mars explorations are depended on their crewless spacecraft in orbit and on the planet's surface.
The relentless space missions on Mars is driven by questions that scientists want to be answered. That includes whether there is a possibility for life to exist in the famous Red Planet. The US is not the only country to manage these explorations. The Soviet Union, Europe and India have also sent spacecraft to study Mars.
Robots have been instrumental for NASA to lead in breakthrough discoveries of the planet. We are going to take a look at these amazing robots that NASA owes from. According to Space, these are the spacecraft that are still doing their job on Mars.
1. Curiosity Rover
The Curiosity rover was launched on November 26, 2011. It landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. It is a part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. According to NASA, the rover's goals include the investigation of Mar's climate and geology and its habitability.
Curiosity's mission was supposed to end after two years. But NASA had announced in December 2012 that it will be extended indefinitely.
Back in 2013, the rover stumbled upon a powder that suggested the planet had been habitable. They found sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in the samples. According to Space, these elements are needed to support life. It had also detected methane which could be linked to microbial life in the planet.
In 2014, they were able to discover that Mars could have offered organic molecules. These are considered building blocks for life. Curiosity had been also helpful to determine the radiation levels in Mars. This discovery led NASA to conclude that a crewed Mars mission is possible.
Curiosity will be the basis of NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
2. MAVEN orbiter
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter was launched on November 18, 2013. It reached Mars and started orbiting on September 22, 2014. Its goal is to study the planet's atmosphere. It is also tasked to determine how Mars lost its water and became arid.
This was answered last November 5, 2015. NASA revealed that the solar storms that occur in Mars had caused the deterioration of its atmosphere. According to the data taken by MAVEN, the dramatic change in the atmosphere is the reason of Mars' coldness and aridity. When the amount of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere was reduced, the planet was no longer able to support warm weather and liquid water.
The 2001 Mars Odyssey was launched on April 7, 2001. It had reached Mars on October 24, 2001. Odyssey currently holds a record of its name. It is the longest-serving spacecraft on Mars. NASA has stated that it would still likely operate until 2025.
The goal of Odyssey is to identify whether life had existed on Mars. It studies that geology and radiation of the planet. The latter will help on future human missions. Apparently, it also transmits a communication from Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Science Laboratory to Earth.
Odyssey had predicted back in 2002 that there is a presence of water on Mars. This was confirmed by the Phoenix lander on July 31, 2008.
4. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) had cost $720 million. It was launched on August 12, 2005. It started to orbit Mars on March 10, 2006. MRO is being used to analyze landforms, stratigraphy, minerals and the ice on Mars.
MRO is mainly beneficial for the missions that came after it. The succeeding spacecraft needed MRO to study their landing sites. It monitors the weather of the planet and its surface conditions. Its telecommunication system is also a force to reckon with. MRO could transfer more data to Earth than its predecessors.
The Opportunity rover is part of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER). It was built along with its twin named Spirit. Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003. It had landed on Mars on January 25, 2004.
Spirit has not been active since 2010. It ceased communication and ran out power. Apparently, it got stuck in 2009 and was not able to escape from the sand dune.
Opportunity is still active to this day. According to Space, it is now the longest-running Mars rover. The most crucial information gathered by Opportunity is the prospect of water from Mars' past. Thus, making it somewhat inhabitable. It was also able to find extra-martian meteorites.