What Are NASA’s Plans For Exploring Mars?

NASA has been able to explore the surface of Mars for 20 years now, after the Spirit rover landed on the Red Planet. As the years have progressed, NASA has continued its exploration, utilizing two rovers and five orbiters to collect as much data as possible. 

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NASA has made many strides in their two decades of exploration of Mars. The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers are currently exploring the surface of the Red planet. The Curiosity rover was launched in November 2011, landing on the planet in August 2012. It’s the largest rover ever sent to the planet, and was sent with the mission of determining if Mars ever had the conditions to support small life forms. 

NASA said the rover has found  “chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars early in its mission and now is exploring the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.”

The Perseverance rover was launched in July 2020 and landed on Mars in February 2021. According to NASA, the goal of that specific mission is to answer “high priority science goals,” regarding the potential for life on the planet.

“The mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.”

In terms of the future, NASA has two planned missions involving Mars, including one that will return a sample of the planet to Earth.

The long-term mission is known as the Mars Sample Return campaign, and has the goal of bringing back rocks and soil to better investigate the planet and its makeup.

According to reports, NASA has the launch dates for the Earth Return Orbiter in 2027, and the Sample Retrieval Lander as 2028. Both spacecraft are expected to land on Mars in 2029 and 2030, respectively. Based on NASA’s mission timeline, they’re expecting the samples from the Red Planet to return to Earth in 2033.

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“Once the samples are on our home planet, scientists plan to conduct detailed chemical and physical analysis in laboratories around the world to look for signs of past life on Mars and perform many other studies beyond the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars.”

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When it comes to NASA’s general future space exploration plans, many have wondered how the Artemis program plays into the future Mars exploration plans. The Artemis program’s plans involved landing men and women on the moon in the coming years, with the intention of hopefully figuring out how to plan a manned mission to Mars. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson discussed how the agency has the hope to land on Mars in the future. 

“We are in a golden age of human spaceflight, which is made possible by NASA’s commercial and international partnerships. Together, we are making an investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way to land the first astronauts on Mars,” Nelson said.