Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. It looks almost like Earth because it has rolling plains, valleys, mountain ranges, volcanoes, and giant canyons. The surface of Mars is mostly covered by iron-rich volcanic rock, which is why it is often called the Red Planet. Because of its similarities with Earth, humans have long speculated that there must be life on it. It’s the reason why NASA has been funding the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) since 1993 to explore the possibilities of life on it.
The goals of the Mars Exploration Program
To find out Mars habitability potential
According to NASA, to determine whether humans can live on Mars, they have to find out if life ever existed on it first. This must start with analyzing whether it’s suitable for life. To achieve this, NASA, through the Mars Exploration Program came up with a strategy called ‘’Follow the water.’’ The ’Follow the water’’ idea is that if life really existed on the red planet, there must have been water to sustain the living things that existed on it. So, the goal of the Mars Exploration Program is to find out any sources of water on the planet like the presence of dried up river beds. Besides water, living things need the energy to get by. So, the program also aims to find any presence of energy on the planet.
Mars has plenty of superoxides, which make it’s unlikely that life ever existed on it, and this rules out the possibility that the sunlight is the main source of energy for supporting life. So, for NASA to be sure that life existed on the planet, they have to search for the existence of alternative energy sources like chemical energy and geothermal energy.
NASA can also determine whether life existed on Mars by finding out any traces of past and present life. Mars has a lot of carbon. So, finding out its location and where it forms can be key to determining whether life existed on the red planet or not and how it developed. Because Mars is mainly made up of carbon dioxide, combined with the fact that it has a lot of carbon minerals on its surface, it can be an indication that water existed on the planet to support life on it.
To find out the red planet’s climate characteristics
The Mars Exploration Program seeks to find out the characteristics of Mars’ climate, both past, and present, including aspects that influence its climate changes. Presently, NASA knows that the movement of dust by the planet’s atmosphere, water vapor exchange between the atmosphere and the surface, and the seasonal changes of its icecaps influences its climate. Understanding of the plant’s climate characteristics will help NASA scientists model its past climate effectively to enable them to fully understand the dynamics of the planet.
Find out the characteristics of the red planet’s geology
Discovering the geology of Mars will play a significant role in determining whether life existed on the plant or not. Scientists should then compare it with Earth’s geology to see if there are any similarities. The Mars Exploration Program aims to differentiate the geology of Mars from that of Earth, as well as understand how cratering, volcanoes, tectonics, wind, water, and other processes have shaped the surface of Mars. Rocks can be critical to find out how events happened chronologically in the history of Mars if water existed on it by finding out the kinds of minerals that formed in water and giving an indication of whether the planet has a magnetic field.
Prepare for human exploration of the red planet
Scientists know that Mars exploration is a monumental challenge because the planet’s surface has massive amounts of superoxide, and lacks a magnetosphere as well as an ozone layer to shield explorers from the sun’s radiation. Therefore, they have to do more research to determine it can support life before thinking of sending humans to explore it.
The recent SpaceX and The Demo-2 Mission – What you need to know about it
On May 31, 2020, NASA and SpaceX made history by successfully flying humans to the international space station on its Crew Dragon Spacecraft. The launch, which happened from Kennedy Space Center, is the first launch in 9 years and the first private company to do so. American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken traveled 17,000 miles per hour aboard a Falcon 9 rocket for a rendezvous with the space station.
Millions around the world tuned in and hundreds of thousands lined along the coast of Florida to watch the launch. The mission could last 1 to 4 months depending on how well the space ship performs. The success of this mission is significant considering that NASA focuses on its mission to the moon in 4 years.
According to NASA, the launch, named Demo-2 Mission, represents the final demonstration mission to rate SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 ability to fly into space. In other words, Space X launched this demo to show NASA that they have the technological capability to send astronauts to the international space station safely.
Originally, NASA had planned for the crew to stay onboard the station for a few days. But, they changed their mind and said they will stay for 2 to 3 months. They argued that if they send them there and things work perfectly well, then they should just let them work up there. It will be interesting to see how this mission goes and what the astronauts will learn from it.
People were so excited about this demo because the last time the U.S. launched astronauts from its soil was in 2011. Also, another aspect that made people so excited about this demo is that it marks the beginning of space tourism. The success of this program means people might be able to buy tickets to tour space in the future, for days or even weeks. In other words, it could lead to a new era of human space flight. The success of the program also means human exploration of Mars and the ability of people to live in it could happen in 5 years.
Before the launch of this demo, NASA advised people against traveling to see the launch because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, they should watch it from their homes. However, many couldn’t resist and traveled to see the launch. However, they maintained social distancing to avoid any risk of spreading the virus.