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Meet the Robots of Mars

Andrea Luck on Flickr

We may not have found large green aliens populating our closest space neighbor, but many robots call Mars home. Humans have been sending robotic explorers to the red planet for more than 40 years in the name of science and adventure. These robots have provided us with photos, scientific data, and a completely new view of Mars. Let’s meet some of these space exploration superstars.

Viking 1 and Viking 2

Courtesy of Planetary

The first spacecraft ever to touch down on Mars, these machines gave humans a never-before-seen look at the planet. Both touched down a few months apart in 1976 but continued their missions for many years afterward. They took close-up, high-quality pictures and provided basic information about the Martian atmosphere and surface. While this was an important first step in visiting Mars, these devices were stuck in place once they landed on the surface.

Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner Rover

Courtesy of Nasa

The first mechanical explorer to wheel around Mars was the Sojourner Rover. Created by NASA, it landed in 1997. The rover’s main goal was to test out a new way of delivering landers decked out with sensors, but it ended up doing much more than that. Equipped with six wheels, many scientific instruments, and a dream, the little vehicle drove hundreds of square miles around its landing site.

Spirit and Opportunity

Courtesy of Nasa

Meet the twins of Mars. Launched just a month apart in 2003, these rovers were equipped with the same tools to explore and search for signs of ancient water. Opportunity was able to find evidence that at least one area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period and that those conditions could have supported microbial life. Spirit’s mission ended in 2011 after it got stuck in soft Martian soil. Opportunity long outlasted Spirit, exploring until a dust storm ended communications with the rover in 2018.


Courtesy of Nasa

This car-sized rover touched down on Mars in 2012 and has been operating for more than a decade. With an advanced toolkit of 10 instruments and 17 sensors, Curiosity has been a source of numerous discoveries. Early in its stay on Mars the rover found evidence of past environments on Mars that could potentially have supported life. Curiosity continues to explore the rock record (rocks that currently exist) of the planet. Even this year the rover found its clearest evidence yet of ancient water ripples that formed within lakes. Billions of years ago, waves on a shallow Martian lake stirred up sediment. This created bumpy textures that Curiosity was still able to see in rock today.


Courtesy of Nasa

The Insight Lander touched down on Martian soil in 2018. It was another robot designed to fulfill its interplanetary mission right from where it landed. Rather than a focus on moving around Mars, it focused on drilling down into the soil. By doing that it detected the first-ever quake on a planet other than earth. In total, it measured over 1,300 seismic events (shaking events) within the planet before it retired in 2022. Insight gave us important information to help us better understand what lies under the Martian surface.


Courtesy of Nasa

Recently passing the 2-year anniversary of its landing on Mars, Perseverance is preparing payloads for future missions to the red planet. It is seeking signs of ancient life and collecting and packaging samples for potential return to Earth. It has spent its days packing rock and soil samples into small tubes for a future NASA mission to grab and bring back home. Maybe one day you will see, firsthand, one of the rocks collected by this rover in your local museum.


Courtesy of Nasa

Perseverance also carried a friend along on its journey: the helicopter Ingenuity. The first powered vehicle to lift off from Mars, the little copter has now completed more than 40 flights on the red planet. Ingenuity has served as an initial technology demonstration to see how rovers and helicopters can work together on future missions. It is paving the way for all the robotic space explorers of the future.

Check out this link for more info, and find out how you can play the mars helicopter game.

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