Authored By: David Baker
From telescopic observations of the Red Planet in the 19th century, which indicated that life may exist beyond Earth, Mars has captured the imagination of the public. Funded by collective governments, a programme of exploration began in the latter part of the 20th century, in which probes were designed to fly close to Mars and send photographic images back to Earth. Decades later, vehicles were designed to land on the planet’s surface and were tasked with an extraordinary number of missions to provide insight into the geology, geography and atmosphere of Mars. Using revolutionary technology and advanced operating techniques, NASA developed a series of Mars rovers capable of autonomous operation and high reliability.
Over several decades, they went from deploying a roving vehicle the size of a microwave oven to vehicles the size and weight of a small SUV. In roaming across the surface of the Red Planet taking samples, these roving vehicles gather information that may lead to answers to some of the most vexed questions about the Red Planet: was there ever life on Mars? Is there life now and can we find evidence for that? Perseverance, the latest rover, is currently collecting samples that another spacecraft will return to Earth in the 2030s. Once analysed, those samples may help answer essential questions and potentially clear the way for humans to journey to the Red Planet.