NASA’s Opportunity rover has been rolling around the surface of the red planet for an amazing 14 years. The rover’s expected operational life was a mere 90 sols (about three Earth months), but it just kept on going. It’s looking increasingly likely that the planet’s global dust storm has ended the improbable run of Opportunity. As the storm begins to clear, there’s still no signal from the rover.
It was a crazy idea on the face of it -- sending a $2.5 billion robot to another planet with a complex rocket sled contraption to get it safely to the surface. It worked, though, and Curiosity began its exploration of the red planet six years ago. As the rover begins its seventh year on Mars, let’s look at how it got there and where it’s going.
Mars has long been seen as a potential second home for humanity, but it won’t be a comfortable place to hang your hat until we’ve addressed the lack of breathable air. According to NASA, fantasies about terraforming the red planet are premature. A new analysis of Mars and its composition shows that we’re nowhere near being able to terraform the planet with current technology.
Astronomers have calculated that Mars will be a mere 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) next Tuesday, July 31. That’s practically in our backyard by some measures. The following week on Friday, August 11, Mars will be in opposition to the sun. That means the two objects will be on the exact opposite sides of the Earth.
Things on Mars may have gone from bad to worse for the Opportunity rover. The dust storm on the planet shows no signs of abating, and NASA now says the rover has missed its latest check-in. That suggests its batteries are drained, and that could spell the end for this tenacious little solar-powered rover.
Organic molecules are considered one of the basic building blocks of life. The compounds discovered on Mars could have been produced by living things, or they could have been food for those living things. This doesn’t constitute proof that life existed on Mars, though. Other processes that have nothing to do with living organisms can create organic compounds as well. Still, this discovery is very encouraging in the context of what we know about Mars in the distant past.
A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor rocketed toward Mars on Saturday, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious insides. InSight will dig deeper into Mars than ever before -- nearly 16 feet, or 5 meters -- to take the planet's temperature. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.
The long-awaited Falcon Heavy rocket roared to life on Wednesday at 12:30 pm Eastern, as SpaceX fired up the 27 Merlin engines that power the triple-booster rocket at Kennedy Space Center. Perched atop what CEO Elon Musk claims will be the most powerful lift vehicle in the world is the billionaire’s Tesla Roadster, which will launch toward a Mars elliptical orbit on the Falcon Heavy’s upcoming maiden flight.
President Trump in a White House ceremony on Monday signed a new directive aimed at sending U.S. astronauts back to the moon -- one that, while short on details, the administration insisted will restore the U.S. to its role as a leader in space exploration and help spur job growth.
2016 marked record-breaking progress in NASA’s exploration objectives. The agency advanced the capabilities needed to travel farther into the solar system while increasing observations of our home and the universe, learning more about how to continuously live and work in space and, of course, inspiring the next generation of leaders to take up our Journey to Mars and make their own discoveries.