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Why we keep going back to Mars (+video)

The Mars Curiosity Rover scheduled to touch down on Aug. 5 represents mankind's 40th attempt to explore the Red Planet over the past 50 years. What is it about the Mars that keeps calling us back?

This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.
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The huge NASA rover speeding toward an Aug. 5 landing on Mars may be the most capable and complex Red Planet explorer ever launched, but it's far from the first.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover — which will search for evidence that Mars is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life — represents humanity's 40th effort to explore the Red Planet over the last half-century.

The huge number of attempted Mars missions may seem surprising, especially since many of our solar system's other planets and moons remain relatively unstudied. But the Red Planet keeps calling us back — and for good reason, experts say.

"Mars is such a compelling scientific target," said Scott Hubbard of Stanford University, the former "Mars Czar" who restructured NASA's Red Planet program after it suffered several high-profile failures in the late 1990s.

"You can get to it every 26 months, and it's the place in the solar system most likely to have had life emerge," Hubbard told SPACE.com. "If you add that to Mars being also the most logical ultimate target for human exploration, I think that Mars will continue to be part of the space exploration portfolio." [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]

Fifty years of Mars exploration

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