Curiosity rover discovers new evidence Mars once had 'right conditions' for life

"We're finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers."

a wheeled robot with a camera on a stalk rolls around in red dirt

Thanks to a combination of images from NASA's Curiosity rover, scans of sedimentary rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico on Earth and computer simulations, geologists have identified the ancient, eroded remnants of rivers in a number of craters on Mars.

A team of researchers examining data collected by NASA's Curiosity rover at Gale crater, a large impact basin on the Martian surface, discovered further evidence that rivers once flowed across the Red Planet , perhaps more widespread than was previously thought. "We're finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers," said geoscientist Benjamin Cardenas of Penn State University and lead author of the research in a statement .

On Earth , rivers are important for chemical, nutrient and sediment cycles that all have a positive impact on life. The discovery of further evidence for ancient rivers on Mars , therefore, could be an important development in the search for signs of life on the Red Planet .

"Our research indicates that Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars," said Cardenas. "It offers a vision of Mars where most of the planet once had the right condition for life."

Related: Good news for life: Mars rivers flowed for long stretches long ago

The specific landforms identified in Curiosity rover data, called bench-and-nose features, are found within numerous small craters, but until now had not been recognized as being deposits formed by running water.

Evidence for rivers on Mars has been known since the first spacecraft to orbit Mars, Mariner 9 , imaged dried-up river channels and floodplains on the red planet's surface. The various Mars rovers have also found mineralogical evidence in the form of sulfur-containing compounds such as jarosite, which form in water. The rovers and orbiters have also identified ridges formed by sediment in river channels billions of years old.

However, the identification of the bench-and-nose landforms suggests that rivers were even more widespread than thought. They are an alternating mix of steep slopes and shallow 'benches', and shortened ridges called 'noses'. They form when sedimentary material laid down in channels by rivers are subsequently eroded in a preferential direction, possibly by prevailing winds.

— Perseverance rover spies signs of ancient raging rivers on Mars

—  Curiosity rover finds ancient 'building blocks for life' on Mars

 —  Possible sign of Mars life? Curiosity rover finds 'tantalizing' Red Planet organics

Suspecting their watery origin, Cardenas and Kaitlyn Stacey, also of Penn State, trained their computer model on Curiosity's images of bench-and-nose landforms inside craters and three-dimensional scans of layers of sedimentary bedrock on the sea floor beneath the Gulf of Mexico taken by oil companies 25 years ago. 

The computer model was then able to simulate the erosion of sediment left by rivers to form the bench-and-nose landforms.

Curiosity had previously ascertained that the 154-km-wide (96 miles) Gale crater, which the rover is exploring, was filled with liquid water. The discovery that the bench-and-nose landforms were produced by rivers now gives some indication of the structure of that water-mass inside Gale crater.

The findings are published in Geophysical Research Letters .

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Keith Cooper

Keith Cooper is a freelance science journalist and editor in the United Kingdom, and has a degree in physics and astrophysics from the University of Manchester. He's the author of "The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020) and has written articles on astronomy, space, physics and astrobiology for a multitude of magazines and websites.

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  • rod "Our research indicates that Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars," said Cardenas. "It offers a vision of Mars where most of the planet once had the right condition for life." Okay, the theme of life on Mars is repeated again and again to the public. At some point, life on Mars must be confirmed or acknowledge that abiogenesis never took place on Mars and life was never there. If the Perseverance rover found evidence of life on Mars, would we recognize it?, https://forums.space.com/threads/if-the-perseverance-rover-found-evidence-of-life-on-mars-would-we-recognize-it.63692/ Reply
  • Broadlands The rovers were not sent to find out if conditions for life were there billions of years ago. They were sent to study the rocks to search for life or some actual evidence it was there. So far nothing has been found and only two samples have actually been taken and x-rayed. by Curiosity. None from Percy. Much of the important mineralogy has been studies from space, not confirmed on the ground, Sending selected samples back years from now is wasteful, lacking some evidence that even one might have a chance. Reply
rod said: "Our research indicates that Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars," said Cardenas. "It offers a vision of Mars where most of the planet once had the right condition for life." Okay, the theme of life on Mars is repeated again and again to the public. At some point, life on Mars must be confirmed or acknowledge that abiogenesis never took place on Mars and life was never there. If the Perseverance rover found evidence of life on Mars, would we recognize it?, https://forums.space.com/threads/if-the-perseverance-rover-found-evidence-of-life-on-mars-would-we-recognize-it.63692/
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Curiosity rover finds new evidence of ancient Mars rivers, a key signal for life

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Curiosity rover finds new evidence of ancient Mars rivers, a key signal for life

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On Mars, a Year of Surprise and Discovery

The past 12 months on Mars have been both “exciting” and “exhausting” for scientists and engineers minding the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. And the mission is only really getting started.

mars research report

By Kenneth Chang

A year ago, NASA’s Perseverance rover was accelerating to a collision with Mars, nearing its destination after a 290-million-mile, seven-month journey from Earth.

On Feb. 18 last year, the spacecraft carrying the rover pierced the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour. In just seven minutes — what NASA engineers call “seven minutes of terror” — it had to pull off a series of maneuvers to place Perseverance gently on the surfac e.

Given the minutes of delay for radio communications to crisscross the solar system, the people in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were merely spectators that day. If anything had gone wrong, they would not have had any time to attempt a fix, and the $2.7 billion mission, to search for evidence that something once lived on the red planet, would have ended in a newly excavated crater.

But Perseverance performed perfectly, sending home exhilarating video footage as it landed . And NASA added to its collection of robots exploring Mars.

“The vehicle itself is just doing phenomenally well,” Jennifer Trosper, the project manager for Perseverance, said.

Twelve months later, Perseverance is nestled within a 28-mile-wide crater known as Jezero . From the topography, it is evident that more than three billion years ago, Jezero was a body of water roughly the size of Lake Tahoe, with rivers flowing in from the west and out to the east.

One of the first things Perseverance did was deploy Ingenuity, a small robotic helicopter and the first such flying machine to take off on another planet. Perseverance also demonstrated a technology for generating oxygen that will be crucial whenever astronauts finally make it to Mars.

The rover then set off on a diversion from the original exploration plans, to study the floor of the crater it landed in. The rocks there turned out not to be what scientists were expecting. It ran into trouble a couple of times when it tried to collect cores of rock — cylinders about the size of sticks of chalk — that are eventually to be brought back to Earth by a future mission. Engineers were able to solve the problems and most everything is going well.

“It’s been a very exciting year, exhausting at times,” said Joel Hurowitz, a professor of geosciences at Stony Brook University in New York who is a member of the mission’s science team. “The pace of work has been pretty incredible.”

mars research report

After months of scrutinizing the crater floor, the mission team is now preparing to head for the main scientific event: investigating a dried-up river delta along the west rim of Jezero.

That is where scientists expect to find sedimentary rocks that are most likely to contain blockbuster discoveries, maybe even signs of ancient Martian life — if any ancient life ever existed on Mars.

“Deltas are, at least on Earth, habitable environments,” said Amy Williams, a professor of geology at the University of Florida and a member of the Perseverance science team. “There’s water. There’s active sediment being transported from a river into a lake.”

Such sediments can capture and preserve carbon-based molecules that are associated with life. “That’s an excellent place to look for organic carbon,” Dr. Williams said. “So hopefully, organic carbon that’s indigenous to Mars is concentrated in those layers.”

Perseverance landed not much more than a mile from the delta. Even at a distance, the rover’s eagle-eyed camera could make out the expected sedimentary layers. There were also boulders, some as large as cars, sitting on the delta, rocks that were washed into the crater.

“This all tells a fascinating story,” said Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University.

The data confirm that what orbital images suggested was a river delta is indeed that and that the history of water here was complex. The boulders, which almost certainly came from the surrounding highlands, point to episodes of violent flooding at Jezero.

“It wasn’t just slow, gentle deposition of fine grained silt and sand and mud,” said Dr. Bell, who serves as principal investigator for the sophisticated cameras mounted on Perseverance’s mast.

Mission managers had originally planned to head directly to the delta from the landing site. But the rover set down in a spot where the direct route was blocked by sand dunes that it could not cross.

The geological formations to the south intrigued them.

“We landed in a surprising location, and made the best of it,” said Kenneth Farley, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology who serves as the project scientist leading the research.

Because Jezero is a crater that was once a lake, the expectation was that its bottom would be rocks that formed out of the sediments that settled to the bottom.

But at first glance, the lack of layers meant “they did not look obviously sedimentary,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the deputy project scientist. At the same time, nothing clearly suggested they were volcanic in origin, either.

“It’s really turned into a detective story sort of about why this region is one of the most geologically unusual in the planet,” said Nicholas Tosca, a professor of mineralogy and petrology at the University of Cambridge in England and a member of the science team.

As the scientists and engineers contemplated whether to circle around to the north or to the south, the team that built a robotic helicopter named Ingenuity got to try out their creation.

The helicopter was a late addition to the mission, meant as a proof-of-concept for flying through the thin air of Mars.

On April 18 last year, Ingenuity rose to a height of 10 feet, hovered for 30 seconds, and then descended back to the ground. The flight lasted 39.1 seconds.

Over the following weeks, Ingenuity made four more flights of increasing time, speed and velocity.

mars research report

That was supposed to be the end of the helicopter’s mission. Perseverance was to leave it behind and head off on its scientific research.

But NASA decided five flights were not enough. When Perseverance set off to explore the rocks to the south, Ingenuity went along, now scouting the terrain ahead of the rover.

That helped avoid wasting time driving to unexceptional rocks that had looked potentially interesting in images taken from orbit.

“We sent the helicopter and saw the images, and it looked very similar to where we were,” Ms. Trosper said. “And so we chose not to drive.”

The helicopter continues to fly. It just completed its 19th flight, and it remains in good condition. The batteries are still holding a charge. The helicopter has shown it can fly in the colder, thinner air of the winter months. It was able to shake off most of the dust that fell on it during a dust storm in January.

“Everything’s looking green across the board,” said Theodore Tzanetos, who leads the Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In the exploration of the rocks to the south of the landing site, scientists solved some of their secrets when the rover used its drill to grind shallow holes in a couple of them.

“Oh wow, these look volcanic,” Dr. Stack Morgan said, remembering her reaction. “Exactly what you’d expect for a basaltic lava flow.”

The tools that Perseverance carries to study the ingredients of Martian rocks can take measurements pinpointed on bits of rock as small as a grain of sand. And cameras on the robotic arm can take close-up pictures.

Those observations revealed large grains of olivine, an igneous mineral that can accumulate at the bottom of a large lava flow. Later fractures emerged between the olivine grains that were filled with carbonates, a mineral that forms through interactions with water.

The thinking now is that the Jezero crater floor is the same olivine-rich volcanic rock that orbiting spacecraft have observed in the region. It might have formed before the crater filled with water.

Sediments from the lake probably did cover the rock, with water percolating through the sediments to fill the fractures with carbonate. Then, slowly, over a few billion years, winds blew the sediments away.

That the wispy air on Mars could erode so much rock is hard for geologists on Earth to wrap their minds around.

“You don’t find landscapes that are even close to that on Earth,” Dr. Farley said.

Sunset on Mars on Nov. 9, 2021, the 257th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

The most troublesome moments during the first year have occurred during the collection of rock samples. For decades, planetary scientists have dreamed that pieces of Mars could be brought to Earth, where they could study them with state-of-the-art instruments in laboratories.

Perseverance is the first step in turning that dream into reality by drilling cores of rock and sealing them in tubes. The rover, however, has no means to get the rock samples off Mars and back to Earth; that awaits another mission known as Mars Sample Return , a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency.

During the development of Perseverance’s drill, engineers tested it with a wide variety of Earth rocks. But then the very first rock on Mars that Perseverance tried to drill turned out to be unlike all of the Earth rocks.

The rock in essence turned to dust during the drilling and slid out of the tube. After several successes, another drilling attempt ran into problems. Pebbles fell out of the tube in an inconvenient part of the rover — the carousel where the drilling bits are stored — and that required weeks of troubleshooting to clean away the debris.

“That was exciting, not necessarily in the best way,” Dr. Stack Morgan said. “The rest of our exploration has gone really well.”

Perseverance will at some point drop off some of its rock samples for a rover on the Mars Sample Return mission to pick up. That is to prevent the nightmare scenario that Perseverance dies and there is no way to extricate the rocks it is carrying.

The top speed of Perseverance is the same as that of Curiosity, the rover NASA landed in another crater in 2012. But improved self-driving software means it can cover longer distances in a single drive. To get to the delta, Perseverance needs to retrace its path to the landing site and then take a route around the sand dunes to the north.

It could arrive at the delta by late May or early June. Ingenuity will try to stay ahead of Perseverance.

The helicopter flies faster than the rover can drive, but after each flight, its solar panels have to soak up several days of sunshine to recharge the batteries. Perseverance, powered by the heat from a hunk of plutonium, can drive day after day after day.

The helicopter, however, might be able to take a shortcut across the sand dunes.

“We’re planning to get to the delta,” Mr. Tzanetos said. “And we’re discussing what happens beyond the river delta.”

But, he added that every day could be the last for Ingenuity, which was designed to last only a month. “You hope that you’re lucky enough to keep flying,” he said, “and we’re going to keep that streak going for as long as we can.”

Once Perseverance gets to the delta, the most electrifying discovery would be images of what looked to be microscopic fossils. In that case, “we have to start asking whether some globs of organic matter are arranged in a shape that outlines a cell,” said Tanja Bosak, a geobiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It is unlikely Perseverance will see anything that is unequivocally a remnant of a living organism. That is why it is crucial for the rocks to be brought to Earth for closer examination.

Dr. Bosak does not have a strong opinion on whether there was ever life on Mars.

“We are really trying to peer into the time where we have very little knowledge,” she said. “We have no idea when chemical processes came together to form the first cell. And so we may be looking at something that was just learning to be life.”

Kenneth Chang has been at The Times since 2000, writing about physics, geology, chemistry, and the planets. Before becoming a science writer, he was a graduate student whose research involved the control of chaos. More about Kenneth Chang

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Researchers find signs of rivers on Mars, a potential indicator of ancient life

New research from a team of scientists at penn state who analyzed curiosity rover data found that mars could once have been teeming with flowing rivers: the bedrock of life..

mars research report

Mars has long served as inspiration to many a science fiction writer in search of a home planet for their imagined extraterrestrials.

But could the terrestrial red planet ever have actually been home to Martians?

New research from a team of scientists at Penn State who analyzed Curiosity rover data found that Mars could once have been teeming with flowing water: the bedrock of life. In a study published in  Geophysical Research Letters , the researchers determined that many of the craters covering Mars could have once been habitable rivers.

“Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars,” Penn State geosciences professor Benjamin Cardenas, the study's lead author, said in a statement this week . “It offers a vision of Mars where most of the planet once had the right conditions for life.”

Ancient cosmic flash: A radio burst that traveled 8 billion years to reach Earth is the farthest ever detected.

NASA has future interest in Mars

The findings are among the latest breakthroughs amid heightened interest in studying Mars.

Evidence has of late been mounting that life may have once existed on the rocky, inhospitable planet, which NASA astronauts have aspirations of one day soon visiting.

Findings from NASA's Perseverance rover led researchers to conclude in a July study that organic molecules, a potential indicator of life, were present in rocks where a lake long ago existed on Mars. However, the researchers noted that evidence of such molecules is not proof of life past or present on Mars, and that non-biological processes remain a more likely explanation.

“Mars is exciting, and still may have signs of life,” Andrew Steele, a Carnegie Institution staff scientist who has investigated the Mars rock, said in a statement at the time. “But it is also teaching us about how the building blocks of life can form.”

NASA has sent a host of remotely-operated landers, orbiters and rovers to study Mars and bring back geologic samples. While no humans have set foot on the planet, that could change.

NASA has resumed lunar missions for the first time in decades with its Artemis program and plans in 2025 to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972. Once there, NASA hopes to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon to serve as a base of operations of sorts for future missions to Mars.

In September, NASA successfully tested a breathing device called  MOXIE  (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) to produce oxygen for astronauts during future Mars missions.

Study: Asteroid known as Polyhymnia may contain 'superheavy' elements unknown to humans

Study: Mars landscape not 'frozen in time'

While evidence for rivers on Mars has been known since the Mariner 9 mission, which became the first spacecraft to orbit Mars after launching in 1971, the recent study suggests that rivers were more widespread than previously believed.

The study was the first to map the erosion of ancient Martian soil by training a computer model on a combination of satellite data, Curiosity images and 25-year-old scans of Earth's own rock deposits. Researchers said that the 3D scans from beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor provided an ideal benchmark to which to compare Mars stratigraphy — layers of rock deposited over millions of years.

Researchers simulated Mars-like erosion over millennia using the Earth scans to discover that common crater formations could be explained as the remnants of ancient riverbeds. The analysis is the first time that data of erosional landforms collected by Curiosity at Mars' Gale crater have been interpreted as possible river deposits, according to the researchers.

Because rivers are such an integral component for life on Earth, researchers theorized in the study that their findings, if accurate, could serve as evidence of the past existence of ancient extraterrestrial organisms.

The findings further suggest that more undiscovered river deposits could be found elsewhere on the planet and that a large chunk of Mars could have been built by rivers during a habitable period of the planet's history, the researchers claim.

As the Curiosity rover continues to capture evidence of abundant water on an otherwise arid planet, NASA has said that other possible future places to look for signs of life on Mars include sites where water collected underground, once forming a system of subsurface lakes.

“We see signs of this all over the planet," Cardenas said. "What we see on Mars today is the remnants of an active geologic history, not some landscape frozen in time.”

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

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Independent review indicates nasa prepared for mars sample return campaign.

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NASA released an independent review report Tuesday indicating the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study. The agency established the MSR Independent Review Board (IRB) to evaluate its early concepts for a groundbreaking, international partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) to return the first samples from another planet.

Following an examination of the agency’s ambitious Mars Sample Return plan, the board’s report concludes that NASA is prepared for the campaign, building on decades of scientific advancements and technical progress in Mars exploration.

The MSR campaign will require three advanced space vehicles. The first, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover , is more than halfway to Mars following launch in July. Aboard Perseverance is a sophisticated sampling system with a coring drill and sample tubes that are the cleanest hardware ever sent to space. Once on Mars, Perseverance aims to cache rock and regolith samples in its collection tubes. It then would leave some of them on the Martian surface for an ESA-provided “fetch” rover to collect and deliver to a NASA-provided Mars Ascent Vehicle, which then would launch the samples into orbit around Mars. An ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter would then rendezvous with the samples in orbit around Mars and take them in a highly secure containment capsule for return to Earth in the 2030s.

“Mars Sample Return is something NASA needs to do as a leading member of the global community,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We know there are challenges ahead, but that’s why we look closely at these architectures. And that’s why in the end, we achieve the big accomplishments.”

Sample return is a top priority of the National Academies’ Planetary Science Decadal Survey for 2013-2022, and NASA has worked to mature the critical capabilities and overall MSR concept for the past three years. The board acknowledged the longstanding cooperation between NASA and ESA in robotic and human space exploration as an asset for the robust campaign and commended both agencies’ early and in-depth analysis of MSR implementation approaches to inform future planning and development.

“NASA is committed to mission success and taking on great challenges for the benefit of humanity, and one way we do that is by ensuring we are set up to succeed as early as possible,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “I thank the members of this board for their many hours of work resulting in a very thorough review. We look forward to continued planning and mission formulation in close partnership with ESA. Ultimately, I believe this sample return will be well worth the effort and help us answer key astrobiology questions about the Red Planet – bringing us one step closer to our eventual goal of sending humans to Mars.”

NASA initiated the IRB in mid-August to ensure the long-awaited mission is positioned for success. It is the earliest independent review of any NASA Science Mission Directorate large strategic mission. Historically, such reviews have not occurred until much later in the program development.

David Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, chaired the IRB, which comprised 10 experienced leaders from scientific and engineering fields. The board, which met during 25 sessions from August to October of this year, interviewed experts across NASA and ESA, as well as in industry and academia, and made 44 recommendations to address potential areas of concern regarding the program’s scope and management, technical approach, schedule, and funding profile.

“The MSR campaign is a highly ambitious, technically demanding, and multi-faceted planetary exploration program with extraordinary scientific potential for world-changing discoveries,” said Thompson. “After a thorough review of the agency’s planning over the past several years, the IRB unanimously believes that NASA is now ready to carry out the MSR program, the next step for robotic exploration of Mars.”

The IRB found that NASA has developed a feasible concept and a broad set of architectural options to inform the planning of the MSR campaign over the next several years and recommends the MSR program proceed. It also highlighted the excellent progress the agency has achieved over the past several years and further emphasized the potential for this program to enable civilization-scale scientific discoveries underscoring that the technology is available now.

“The independent review has given strong support to MSR, which is great news for the campaign,” says ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, David Parker. “It reinforces our shared vision to provide the world’s scientists with pristine pieces of the Red Planet to study using laboratory tools and techniques that we could never take to Mars.” 

The IRB provided its findings and recommendations to NASA for consideration to better position the program for success. NASA has agreed to address and study all of the board’s recommendations in the next year as it moves through early formulation efforts, well in advance of the agency’s confirmation decision.

To read the full report, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/reports

Grey Hautaluoma / Joshua Handal Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0668 / 202-358-2307 [email protected] / [email protected]

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  • Published: 24 February 2020

Initial results from the InSight mission on Mars

  • W. Bruce Banerdt   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3125-1542 1 ,
  • Suzanne E. Smrekar   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8775-075X 1 ,
  • Don Banfield   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2664-0164 2 ,
  • Domenico Giardini   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5573-7638 3 ,
  • Matthew Golombek   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1928-2293 1 ,
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  • Philippe Lognonné   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1014-920X 6 , 7 ,
  • Aymeric Spiga   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6776-6268 7 , 8 ,
  • Tilman Spohn   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9322-6660 9 ,
  • Clément Perrin   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7200-5682 6 ,
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  • Günter Kargl 25 ,
  • Taichi Kawamura 6 ,
  • Sharon Kedar 1 ,
  • Scott King   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9564-5164 26 ,
  • Brigitte Knapmeyer-Endrun   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3309-6785 27 ,
  • Martin Knapmeyer   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0319-2514 9 ,
  • Mark Lemmon   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4504-5136 28 ,
  • Ralph Lorenz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8528-4644 29 ,
  • Justin N. Maki   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7887-0343 1 ,
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  • David Mimoun   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3427-2974 20 ,
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  • Antoine Mocquet 33 ,
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  • Naomi Murdoch   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9701-4075 20 ,
  • Seiichi Nagihara 35 ,
  • Claire Newman 36 ,
  • Francis Nimmo   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3573-5915 37 ,
  • Mark Panning 1 ,
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  • Sébastien Rodriguez   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1219-0641 6 , 7 ,
  • Jose Antonio Rodriguez-Manfredi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0461-9815 39 ,
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  • Nicholas Schmerr   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3256-1262 40 ,
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  • Sabine Stanley 42 ,
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  • Mark Wieczorek 46  

Nature Geoscience volume  13 ,  pages 183–189 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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  • Atmospheric dynamics
  • Geomagnetism
  • Geomorphology
  • Inner planets

NASA’s InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission landed in Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018. It aims to determine the interior structure, composition and thermal state of Mars, as well as constrain present-day seismicity and impact cratering rates. Such information is key to understanding the differentiation and subsequent thermal evolution of Mars, and thus the forces that shape the planet’s surface geology and volatile processes. Here we report an overview of the first ten months of geophysical observations by InSight. As of 30 September 2019, 174 seismic events have been recorded by the lander’s seismometer, including over 20 events of moment magnitude M w = 3–4. The detections thus far are consistent with tectonic origins, with no impact-induced seismicity yet observed, and indicate a seismically active planet. An assessment of these detections suggests that the frequency of global seismic events below approximately M w = 3 is similar to that of terrestrial intraplate seismic activity, but there are fewer larger quakes; no quakes exceeding M w = 4 have been observed. The lander’s other instruments—two cameras, atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind sensors, a magnetometer and a radiometer—have yielded much more than the intended supporting data for seismometer noise characterization: magnetic field measurements indicate a local magnetic field that is ten-times stronger than orbital estimates and meteorological measurements reveal a more dynamic atmosphere than expected, hosting baroclinic and gravity waves and convective vortices. With the mission due to last for an entire Martian year or longer, these results will be built on by further measurements by the InSight lander.

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mars research report

MOLA Science Team.

mars research report

Data availability

The data shown in the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors W.B.B. or S.E.S. upon reasonable request. The InSight Mission raw and calibrated data sets are available via NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS). Data are delivered to the PDS according to the InSight Data Management Plan available in the InSight PDS archive. All datasets can be accessed at https://pds-geosciences.wustl.edu/missions/insight/index.html . The InSight seismic event catalogue 4 and waveform data 3 are available from the IRIS-DMC and SEIS-InSight data portal ( https://www.seis-insight.eu/en/science ). Seismic waveforms as well as data from all other InSight instruments and MOLA topographic data are available from NASA PDS ( https://pds.nasa.gov/ ). The terrestrial stations CH.DAVOX and CH.FIESA are part of the Swiss Seismic Network 44 . The data from these stations are accessible from the Incorporated Research Institutes for Seismology (IRIS) at https://www.iris.edu/hq .

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Acknowledgements

A portion of the work was supported by the InSight Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). We acknowledge NASA; CNES (Centre Nationale d’Etudes Spatiale); their partner agencies and Institutions UKSA (United Kingdom Space Agency), SSO (Swiss Space Office), DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt), JPL, IPGP-CNRS (Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), ETHZ (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich), IC (Imperial College), MPS-MPG (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research-Max Planck Gesellschaft); INTA/CSIC-CAB (Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial/Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas-Centro Astrobioligía); and the flight operations team at JPL, SISMOC (SEIS on Mars Operations Center), MSDS (Mars SEIS Data Service), IRIS-DMC (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology-Data Management Center) and PDS (Planetary Data Service) for providing the SEED (Standard for the Exchange of Earthquake Data) SEIS data used in the seismicity analysis. French co-authors acknowledge the French Space Agency CNES, CNRS and ANR (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche) (ANR-10-LABX-0023, ANR-11-IDEX-0005-0). The Swiss co-authors were jointly funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF-ANR project 157133), the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SEFRI project “MarsQuake Service-Preparatory Phase”) and ETH Research grant ETH-06 17-02. This is LPI (Lunar and Planetary Institute) Contribution No. 2250. LPI is operated by USRA under a cooperative agreement with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. This is InSight Contribution Number 100.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA

W. Bruce Banerdt, Suzanne E. Smrekar, Matthew Golombek, Sami Asmar, Ingrid Daubar, William Folkner, Troy Hudson, Sharon Kedar, Justin N. Maki & Mark Panning

Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

Don Banfield

Institute of Geophysics, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Domenico Giardini, Simon C. Stähler, John Clinton & Martin van Driel

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Catherine L. Johnson & Anna Mittelholz

Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA

Catherine L. Johnson & Matt Siegler

Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Université de Paris, CNRS, Paris, France

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Aymeric Spiga

German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany

Tilman Spohn, Matthias Grott, Martin Knapmeyer, Nils T. Mueller & Ana-Catalina Plesa

Sorbonne Université, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UMR CNRS 7590, Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie (IMPMC), Paris, France

Daniele Antonangeli

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Caroline Beghein

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Neil Bowles

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Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany

Ulrich Christensen

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Véronique Dehant

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Günter Kargl

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Contributions

The scientific results of the InSight mission are the result of a team effort, with all the listed authors contributing to aspects of the design, implementation and analysis of results. W.B.B. and S.E.S. are the Principal Investigator and Deputy Principal Investigator, respectively, of the InSight mission, and jointly and equally supervised and participated in the work described in the manuscript, as well as contributed substantially to writing the manuscript. P.L., along with D.G. and W.T.P., co-led the design and implementation of the SEIS experiment. U.C., D.M. and J.T. contributed to the design and implementation of SEIS. C.B., E.B., J.C., J.C.E.I., S. Kedar, B.K.-E., M.K., L.M., A. Mocquet, F.N., M.P., A.-C.P., M.P., N.S. and R.W. contributed to seismic data analysis. P.L. and W.T.P. led the SEIS performance testing, assisted by M.D., B.K.-E., R.F.G., S. King, T.K., D.M. and N.M. D.B. and A.S. co-led the atmospheric science investigation and contributed to writing the manuscript, with N.B., M.L. and C.N. providing input. J.A.R.-M. contributed to the design, implementation and analysis of the atmospheric science investigation. R.F.G. and R.L. contributed to the joint interpretation of the seismic and atmospheric science investigations. J.N.M. led the imaging experiment and contributed to interpretation of results. M. Golombek led the geology investigation and contributed to writing the manuscript, with J. Garvin, J. Grant, S.R. and N.W. providing input. C.L.J. and C.T.R. co-led the magnetic investigation and contributed to writing the manuscript, with input from P.C., M.F. and A. Mittelholz. I.D. led the impact cratering investigation, interpretation of results and write-up for this manuscript, with G.S.C. and N.T. providing contributions. V.D. and W.F. co-led the geodesy investigation and contributed to interpretation of the results, with S.A. providing contributions. T.S. led the heat flow investigation and contributed to writing the manuscript. M. Grott, J. Grygorczuk, T.H., G.K., P.M., N.T.M., S.N., M.S. and S.E.S. contributed to the design, implementation and analysis of the heat flow investigation. C.P. led the analysis and the writing of the regolith properties from ground deformation described in the Supplementary Discussion, with contributions from N.M., M.D., S.R., M.L., E.S., T.K., P.L., A.S. and D.B. S.C.S. led the analysis and writing of the seismic activity estimate described in the Methods, with M.K., M.v.D. and D.G. providing contributions. D.A., S. King, S.M.M., C.M., S.S. and M.W. contributed to the interpretation of the planetary interior results.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to W. Bruce Banerdt or Suzanne E. Smrekar .

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Extended data

Extended data fig. 1 instrument payload..

Description of the complete set of scientific instruments carried by the InSight lander[ 8 , 9 , 10 , 25 , 50 , 51 , 52 ].

Extended Data Fig. 2 Probability of marsquake detection.

Probability to detect a marsquake of a certain distance and magnitude, given the expected source spectrum 2 and the distribution of ambient noise over sols 85-325. The colored crosses mark the 13 events described in the main article with their uncertainties in distance and magnitude M w ; numerical labels refer to event names in Giardini et al. 2 (e.g., 167a corresponds to event S0167a). The black region is where the event would have never surpassed the ambient noise, the grey region is where it would have been observable only 10% of the time.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Correction of numbers of events for variable noise across observation window.

Events with magnitude M w = 2.8 are counted 4 times, events with MW = 3.8 are counted 2 times, with linear interpolation in between. Distances and magnitudes are based on waveform alignment and the spectral magnitude M Ma FB (see Giardini et al. 2 for a full discussion of marsquake magnitudes).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Minimum detectable magnitude for different distances, with the corresponding fractional surface of the planet.

Distances are shown in degrees, where one degree equals ~59 km on Mars.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Corrected distribution of events with magnitude.

Distribution of events across magnitude M w , with the corrections described in the text.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information.

Supplementary Discussion

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Banerdt, W.B., Smrekar, S.E., Banfield, D. et al. Initial results from the InSight mission on Mars. Nat. Geosci. 13 , 183–189 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0544-y

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0544-y

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mars research report

Mars Nearing Earth

In 2003, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped this photo of the red planet 11 hours before its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. How close? It was a mere 34,648,840 miles (55,760,220 kilometers) away. The next closest approach will be in 2287.

Planet Mars, explained

The rusty world is full of mysteries—and some of the solar system's most extreme geology. Learn more about Earth's smaller, colder neighbor.

The red planet Mars, named for the Roman god of war, has long been an omen in the night sky. And in its own way, the planet’s rusty red surface tells a story of destruction. Billions of years ago, the fourth planet from the sun could have been mistaken for Earth’s smaller twin, with liquid water on its surface—and maybe even life.

Now, the world is a cold, barren desert with few signs of liquid water. But after decades of study using orbiters, landers, and rovers, scientists have revealed Mars as a dynamic, windblown landscape that could—just maybe—harbor microbial life beneath its rusty surface even today.

Longer year and shifting seasons

With a radius of 2,106 miles, Mars is the seventh largest planet in our solar system and about half the diameter of Earth. Its surface gravity is 37.5 percent of Earth’s.

Mars rotates on its axis every 24.6 Earth hours, defining the length of a Martian day, which is called a sol (short for “solar day”). Mars’s axis of rotation is tilted 25.2 degrees relative to the plane of the planet’s orbit around the sun, which helps give Mars seasons similar to those on Earth. Whichever hemisphere is tilted closer to the sun experiences spring and summer, while the hemisphere tilted away gets fall and winter. At two specific moments each year—called the equinoxes—both hemispheres receive equal illumination.

But for several reasons, seasons on Mars are different from those on Earth. For one, Mars is on average about 50 percent farther from the sun than Earth is, with an average orbital distance of 142 million miles. This means that it takes Mars longer to complete a single orbit, stretching out its year and the lengths of its seasons. On Mars, a year lasts 669.6 sols, or 687 Earth days, and an individual season can last up to 194 sols, or just over 199 Earth days.

The angle of Mars’s axis of rotation also changes much more often than Earth's, which has led to swings in the Martian climate on timescales of thousands to millions of years. In addition, Mars’s orbit is less circular than Earth’s, which means that its orbital velocity varies more over the course of a Martian year. This annual variation affects the timing of the red planet’s solstices and equinoxes. On Mars, the northern hemisphere’s spring and summer are longer than the fall and winter.

There’s another complicating factor: Mars has a far thinner atmosphere than Earth, which dramatically lessens how much heat the planet can trap near its surface. Surface temperatures on Mars can reach as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as -225 degrees Fahrenheit, but on average, its surface is -81 degrees Fahrenheit, a full 138 degrees colder than Earth’s average temperature.

Windy and watery, once

The primary driver of modern Martian geology is its atmosphere, which is mostly made of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon. By Earth standards, the air is preposterously thin; air pressure atop Mount Everest is about 50 times higher than it is at the Martian surface . Despite the thin air, Martian breezes can gust up to 60 miles an hour, kicking up dust that fuels huge dust storms and massive fields of alien sand dunes.

Once upon a time, though, wind and water flowed across the red planet. Robotic rovers have found clear evidence that billions of years ago, lakes and rivers of liquid water coursed across the red planet’s surface. This means that at some point in the distant past, Mars’s atmosphere was sufficiently dense and retained enough heat for water to remain liquid on the red planet’s surface. Not so today: Though water ice abounds under the Martian surface and in its polar ice caps, there are no large bodies of liquid water on the surface there today.

Mars also lacks an active plate tectonic system, the geologic engine that drives our active Earth, and is also missing a planetary magnetic field. The absence of this protective barrier makes it easier for the sun’s high-energy particles to strip away the red planet’s atmosphere, which may help explain why Mars’s atmosphere is now so thin. But in the ancient past—up until about 4.12 to 4.14 billion years ago —Mars seems to have had an inner dynamo powering a planet-wide magnetic field. What shut down the Martian dynamo? Scientists are still trying to figure out.

High highs and low lows

Like Earth and Venus, Mars has mountains, valleys, and volcanoes, but the red planet’s are by far the biggest and most dramatic. Olympus Mons, the solar system’s largest volcano, towers some 16 miles above the Martian surface, making it three times taller than Everest. But the base of Olympus Mons is so wide—some 374 miles across—that the volcano’s average slope is only slightly steeper than a wheelchair ramp. The peak is so massive, it curves with the surface of Mars. If you stood at the outer edge of Olympus Mons, its summit would lie beyond the horizon.

Mars has not only the highest highs, but also some of the solar system’s lowest lows. Southeast of Olympus Mons lies Valles Marineris, the red planet’s iconic canyon system. The gorges span about 2,500 miles and cut up to 4.3 miles into the red planet’s surface. The network of chasms is four times deeper—and five times longer—than Earth’s Grand Canyon, and at its widest, it’s a staggering 200 miles across. The valleys get their name from Mariner 9, which became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it arrived at Mars in 1971.

A tale of two hemispheres

About 4.5 billion years ago, Mars coalesced from the gaseous, dusty disk that surrounded our young sun. Over time, the red planet’s innards differentiated into a core, a mantle, and an outer crust that’s an average of 40 miles thick.

Its core is likely made of iron and nickel, like Earth’s, but probably contains more sulfur than ours. The best available estimates suggest that the core is about 2,120 miles across, give or take 370 miles—but we don’t know the specifics. NASA’s InSight lander aims to unravel the mysteries of Mars’s interior by tracking how seismic waves move through the red planet.

Mars’s northern and southern hemispheres are wildly different from one another, to a degree unlike any other planet in the solar system. The planet’s northern hemisphere consists mostly of low-lying plains, and the crust there can be just 19 miles thick. The highlands of the southern hemisphere, however, are studded with many extinct volcanoes, and the crust there can get up to 62 miles thick.

What happened? It’s possible that patterns of internal magma flow caused the difference, but some scientists think it's the result of Mars suffering one or several major impacts. One recent model suggests Mars got its two faces because an object the size of Earth’s moon slammed into Mars near its south pole.

Both hemispheres do have one thing in common: They’re covered in the planet’s trademark dust, which gets its many shades of orange, red, and brown from iron rust.

Cosmic companions

At some point in the distant past, the red planet gained its two small and irregularly shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. The two lumpy worlds, discovered in 1877, are named for the sons and chariot drivers of the god Mars in Roman mythology. How the moons formed remains unsolved. One possibility is that they formed in the asteroid belt and were captured by Mars’s gravity. But recent models instead suggest that they could have formed from the debris flung up from Mars after a huge impact long ago.

Deimos, the smaller of the two moons, orbits Mars every 30 hours and is less than 10 miles across. Its larger sibling Phobos bears many scars, including craters and deep grooves running across its surface. Scientists have long debated what caused the grooves on Phobos. Are they tracks left behind by boulders rolling across the surface after an ancient impact, or signs that Mars’s gravity is pulling the moon apart?

Either way, the moon’s future will be considerably less groovy. Each century, Phobos gets about six feet closer to Mars; in 50 million years or so, the moon is projected either to crash into the red planet’s surface or break into smithereens.

Missions to Mars

Since the 1960s, humans have robotically explored Mars more than any other planet beyond Earth. Currently, eight missions from the U.S., European Union, Russia, and India are actively orbiting Mars or roving across its surface. But getting safely to the red planet is no small feat. Of the 45 Mars missions launched since 1960 , 26 have had some component fail to leave Earth, fall silent en route, miss orbit around Mars, burn up in the atmosphere, crash on the surface, or die prematurely.

More missions are on the horizon, including some designed to help search for Martian life. NASA is building its Mars 2020 rover to cache promising samples of Martian rock that a future mission would return to Earth. In 2020, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos plan to launch a rover named for chemist Rosalind Franklin , whose work was crucial to deciphering the structure of DNA. The rover will drill into Martian soil to hunt for signs of past and present life. Other countries are joining the fray, making space exploration more global in the process. In July 2020, the United Arab Emirates is slated to launch its Hope orbiter , which will study the Martian atmosphere.

Perhaps humans will one day join robots on the red planet. NASA has stated its goal to send humans back to the moon as a stepping-stone to Mars. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, is building a massive vehicle called Starship in part to send humans to Mars. Will humans eventually build a scientific base on the Martian surface, like those that dot Antarctica? How will human activity affect the red planet or our searches for life there?

Time will tell. But no matter what, Mars will continue to occupy the human imagination, a glimmering red beacon in our skies and stories.

Read This Next

Raging river and frost-tipped dunes reveal watery history on mars, in the hunt for alien life, this planet just became a top suspect, the moon is even older than we thought, was this massive volcano on mars once an island.

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  • v.3(1); 2019 Jan

Mars Colonization: Beyond Getting There

Igor levchenko.

1 Plasma Sources and Applications Centre/Space Propulsion Centre, NIE, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 637616, Singapore

2 School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, 4000, Australia

Stéphane Mazouffre

3 CNRS, ICARE, Electric Propulsion Team, 1c Avenue de la Recherche Scientifique, 45071, Orléans, France

Michael Keidar

4 Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, George Washington University, Washington, DC, 20052, USA

Kateryna Bazaka

Colonization of Mars: As humans gradually overcome technological challenges of deep space missions, the possibility of exploration and colonization of extraterrestrial outposts is being seriously considered by space agencies and commercial entities alike. But should we do it just because we potentially can? Is such an undoubtedly risky adventure justified from the economic, legal, and ethical points of view? And even if it is, do we have a system of instruments necessary to effectively and fairly manage these aspects of colonization? In this essay, a rich diversity of current opinions on the pros and cons of Mars colonization voiced by space enthusiasts with backgrounds in space technology, economics, and materials science are examined.

1. Mars Colonization—Do We Need It?

Mars: Among other potential outposts, the Red Planet has always been shrouded by a veil of romanticism and mystery. Beyond an active target for space exploration, colonization of Mars has become a popular topic nowadays, fuelled by a potentially naive and somewhat questionable belief that this planet could at some point in time be terraformed to sustain human life. 1 Indeed, the Moon, while very close, is small, barren and devoid of atmosphere. Life on the Moon base would not differ from that in the lifeless desert, with no hope of ever finding water. Other neighboring planets, such as hot Venus and gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, are no more suitable for human habitation.

Mars, however, is a horse of a different color. With a mean radius of 0.53 of that of Earth,, i.e., a surface area nearly equal to the total area of dry land on our planet, and 0.38 of Earth's surface gravity ( Figure 1 ), Mars is thought to provide a potentially much more benevolent environment for the colonists from Earth compared to any other proximate planet. Moreover, promising results obtained by rovers and a low‐frequency radar installed on the Mars Express spacecraft have long sustained the belief that it might be possible to find undersurface and subglacial liquid water. 2 Furthermore, similar to Earth, Mars is expected to have substantial mineral resource at and under its surface layer, with a recently confirmed evidence of metal ores and other vital mineral substances. 3 Although no one has seriously demonstrated a practical means for the extraction and refining of these resources into useful products on Mars, a distant possibility of doing so is considered a principal point in favor of colonization. These features of the Red Planet have firmly cemented its status as an ultimate space colonization destination for near future, 4 despite the obvious immediate challenges such as a dusty carbon dioxide‐rich atmosphere, the pressure of which is reaching only 0.09 atm.

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Composite image that shows the relative dimensions of Earth and Mars. The image of Earth was captured from the Galileo orbiter at about 6:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on December 11, 1990, when it was at a distance of ≈2.1 million kilometers away from Earth during the first of two Earth flybys on its journey to Jupiter. The image of Mars was captured by the Mars Global Surveyor in April of 1999. Image credit: NASA/Jet propulsion Lab. 5

Intense efforts by the world's space agencies and more recently, private enterprises have brought us ever closer to having broad technical capabilities to transport a small number of colonizers and equipment to Mars. These capabilities have been discussed in detail in several comprehensive review and opinion articles that describe various opportunities and challenges facing the Mars settlement program. 6 Proponents of Mars colonization consider present space technology as nearing the stage when it will be able to provide the necessary level of reliability and efficiency required for the one way journey from Earth to Mars. Indeed, a recent example of successful firing of thrusters on Voyager 1 after 37 years of space operation 7 attests to our ability to overcome such significant challenges of spacecraft development 8 , 9 as longevity, reliability, and operational readiness decades after launching. Ongoing advances in nanotechnology and materials engineering enhanced reliability and expanded functionality of contemporary electronics and robotics while reducing device mass, volume, and power consumption. 10 The affordability of small space assets has enabled greater exploration of space, allowing space agencies, universities, and commercial players to collect vital information about extraterrestrial environments in which space assets and living subject will be required to operate, guiding and informing the development of colonization programs. 11

Is it time to go extra‐terrestrial? Mars One program has beenoperating since 2012 and, considering the present level of financial and public support, it is very likely to continue. 12 Falcon Heavy, presently the world's most powerful rocket capable of delivering about 17 tons to Mars surface, was successfully launched on 6 February 2018, demonstrating its capacity to deliver payloads within the framework of Mars One program. 13 In parallel, efforts are made to develop plausible geodynamic scenarios and define relevant parameters, 14 including ambitious ideas of future Mars terraforming. 15 Materials suited for Mars‐oriented applications and operation environments are also under active development. 16 Technical aspects of these projects are described in numerous roadmaps and system architecture description documents. 17 To some, these developments provide confidence that it will indeed be possible to begin colonization of Mars within our lifetime, at least from a technological point of view. And there is certainly no lack of volunteers keen to take on the challenge of a 7 month long one‐way journey to the Red Planet. Indeed, since Mars One's call, thousands have applied and about 100 have been preselected as potential candidates to make up the first crew of four astronauts to be sent to Mars in 2031. 18

Upon reaching the surface, the astronauts will be expected to establish a permanent settlement on Mars, collecting vital data and conducting experiments, with the clear expectation never to return to Earth again ( Figure 2 ). 19

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Modular Martian settlement (artistic representation). Several alternative modular concepts have been proposed, including one by Mars One. 11

Settlement of Mars—is it a dream or a necessity? From scientific publications to public forms, there is certainly little consensus on whether colonization of Mars is necessary or even possible, with a rich diversity of opinions that range from categorical It is a necessity! 20 to equally categorical Should Humans Colonize Other Planets? No. 21 A strong proponent of the idea, Orwig puts forward five reasons for Mars colonization, implicitly stating that establishing a permanent colony of humans on Mars is no longer an option but a real necessity. 20

Specifically, these arguments are:

  • Survival of humans as a species;
  • Exploring the potential of life on Mars to sustain humans;
  • Using space technology to positively contribute to our quality of life, from health to minimizing and reversing negative aspects of anthropogenic activity of humans on Earth;
  • Developing as a species;
  • Gaining political and economic leadership.

The first argument captures the essence of what most space colonization proponents feel—our ever growing environmental footprint threatens the survival of human race on Earth. Indeed, a large body of evidence points to human activity as the main cause of extinction of many species, with shrinking biodiversity and depleting resources threatening the very survival of humans on this planet. Colonization of other planets could potentially increase the probability of our survival.

While being at the core of such ambitious projects as Mars One, a self‐sustained colony of any size on Mars is hardly feasible in the foreseeable future. Indeed, sustaining even a small number of colonists would require a continuous supply of food, oxygen, water and basic materials. At this stage, it is not clear whether it would be possible to establish a system that would generate these resources locally, or whether it would at least in part rely on the delivery of these resources (or essential components necessary for their local production) from Earth. Beyond the supply of these very basic resources, it would be quite challenging if not impossible for the colonists to independently produce hi‐tech but vitally important assets such as medicines, electronics and robotics systems, or advanced materials that provide us with a decent quality of life. In this case, would their existence become little more than the jogtrot of life, as compared with the standards expected at the Earth? 22

This brings us to the second argument—in order to deliver any positive change to the quality of life of humans on Earth, the question of Mars colonization should not only be about survival but also about development if it is to present a viable alternative to our current existence. Such development is inherently linked to the availability of local resources required to sustain life, which is in turn reliant on the availability of instrumentation and equipment necessary for their discovery, extraction and refining. There is little doubt that in early stages of Mars colonization, the greatest fraction of the payload delivered to Mars will be dedicated to equipment needed to provide critical infrastructure and sustain the most fundamental needs of the colony, and not scientific instruments for greater Mars exploration. However, it should be noted that with recent advancements in miniaturized, energy‐efficient electronic and robotics devices, it may in principle be possible to deliver a highly functional yet compact automated laboratory to Mars. A recent breakthrough discovery of (possible) ancient “building blocks of life” made by Curiosity rover greatly supports this notion. 23 , 24 Where Curiosity accommodates only 6.8 kg of scientific instruments, the scientific capabilities of a high‐tech laboratory delivered by one of Mars One landing units solely dedicated to such a mission (i.e., not carrying humans and related resources) could be quite considerable.

The third argument relates to technological advances related to space exploration, specifically how technologies that we may develop in our effort to colonize Mars may find their way into our daily life and deliver unintended benefits. As an example, Orwig points to the image analysis algorithm originally developed for extracting information from blurry images received from Hubble Space Telescope. After the technology was shared with a medical practitioner and as a result applied to medical images, such as X‐ray images, it enabled more accurate visualization of breast tissues affected by cancer, and subsequently led to the development of a minimally invasive stereotactic large‐core needle biopsy. 25 In a separate study, the sequencing and analysis methods developed by NASA to detect and characterize bacterial species on spacecraft to effectively prevent contamination of other worlds with Earth's biota was used to study the link between microorganisms in breast ductal fluid and breast cancer. 26

Finally, the fourth and fifth arguments refer to Mars colonization as an opportunity for humans to grow as a civilization, actively changing the way in which we interact with and exploit our environment. Indeed, in this aspect we can (following Pyne) consider Mars colonization as a kind of cultural invention. 27 Looking back to the Age of Exploration, could the exploration of near‐Earth space together with the Mars and Moon colonization be judged as unavoidable and intuitive continuation of processes started at the dawn of human civilization? Some would argue so, as Shiga points out: “All of the space shuttles – and the ill‐fated Mars rover, Beagle – were named after famous sea vessels.” 28 To many, such a deep attachment to rich history of nautical exploration certainly confirms this hypothesis.

At this point, it is not entirely clear what opportunities and challenges living on Mars will present, and how we as a species would respond to these, but there are certainly calls to embrace innovation and sustainability as the only means to ensure the quality of life for generations to come. Yet, who will oversee and enforce these ideals? Indeed, at its early stages of settlement, the small colony is likely to be composed of altruistic, selfless, technologically savvy individuals who may thrive in an equitable and libertarian society and may be prepared to sacrifice individual desires and benefits for the greater good of the group. However, it is far less likely that such a system can be sustained once the population of colonists grows to thousands and millions and becomes more diverse. Inevitably, a socioeconomic and political order will emerge, and it is likely to be different from the initial system. Would it be possible not to repeat mistakes that we have made when colonizing continents here on Earth?

As we race toward realizing technical aspects of Mars colonization, these and other questions certainly warrant further investigation and discussion. Should we spend a tremendous amount of intellectual, financial and material resources on a distant dream over addressing immediate and highly pressing problems that threaten our very existence on Earth? And is having technological capacity to get there a good enough reason for colonization? In the remainder of this Essay, we will briefly introduce a number of opinions on these issues from stakeholders and space science enthusiasts with diverse backgrounds.

2. Legal Considerations

Right now, the Outer Space Treaty 29 is the main document that governs international cooperation and intercommunication around space and other celestial bodies. While the Outer Space Treaty does not prohibit colonization of Mars, building a permanent colony on the surface of Mars will certainly call for the development of a new system of laws and regulations, which potential colonists would be required to abide by, and which would take precedence over any laws and regulations governing their country of origin. As already mentioned earlier, this may be possible for a small group of like‐minded individuals with common values. Yet, as the colony grows and becomes more diverse with respect to customs, beliefs, traditions and ways of thinking, this may become increasingly challenging. Will it be easy for all interested parties to outline and accept such “Mars constitution”? The success of this endeavor is at the very least questionable, since the major space‐faring nations could not even sign off on The Moon Treaty. 30 , 31 Now, we see efforts by the United Nations to initiate the coordination of space‐related activities, 32 along with active public debates on this problem. 33 , 34 Below we outline some specific legal considerations raised in the recent publications on the topic.

2.1. Do Earth Laws Apply To Mars Colonists?

A set of fundamental questions regarding governance on Mars was formulated by a known proponent of Mars colonization, professor of space law Dunk and discussed by Fecht in her paper Do Earth laws apply to mars colonists ? 35 , 36 Since the demise of Soviet Union, the funding for many national space programs, such as NASA, has not experienced a significant increase, thus keeping the available financial and human resources at a relatively stable level. 37 This provided private companies, such as those led by Musk, an opportunity to emerge and eventually become critical players in space exploration and colonization. Signed in 1967 when space exploration was dominated by nations and not private companies, the current Treaty does not preclude the latter from travelling to Mars, as pointed out by Dunk. 35 , 38 According to his interpretation, private companies can deliver payloads to the surface of the Red Planet and settle on it permanently. We should mention here that the Outer Space Treaty has an international character and does not list specific regulations. However, it does prohibit potential settlers from launching weapons of mass destruction and defining land ownership. These laws are modeled on those on Earth, where deployment of any rocket into space requires multiple levels of authorization at the government and international levels, with the specifics defined by the nature of proposed activities in space. For instance, the launch and operation of a telecom satellite requires approval by the Federal Communications Commission. 39 As global activities in space increase and the number of private enterprises engaged in space exploration grows rapidly, we should expect significant changes in the active regulatory environment in the near future.

While Mars One project has an essentially international character, it still may be bound by the US laws depending on the level of participation of American companies in the project. Mars One is known to rely on third‐party vendors for heavy rocket platforms, with the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, and possibly SLS 40 and BFR 41 being the only realistic options in the near future. Regardless of the country from which it is launched, the rocket produced by an American company will be regarded as an American ship, and, following a very similar approach that governs the behavior of sea‐fairing ships, the space ship would have to abide by the laws of the US legal system. In yet another analogy to the maritime system, the surface of Mars would not belong to any particular country or entity, just as international waters do not belong to any nation. Indeed, even upon reaching the surface of Mars and disembarking the ship, the colonists would be expected to follow the rules of the country that has jurisdiction over their ship. Furthermore, any permanent outpost would be expected to develop an independent governing system, yet the nature of this system is debatable. 35

Recent important efforts to develop an updated legislative system, such as U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act 42 and Act of 20 July 2017 on the exploration and use of space resources 43 aim to go beyond the Outer Space Treaty. These two sets of laws postulate that space resources can indeed be used and exploited by private companies and investors.

On one hand, the early system may capture and be driven by the altruistic nature of early settlers. At the same time, those first settlers will also be subject to a harsh environment, very limited resources and extreme social isolation and uncertainty, potentially necessitating a system that is more hierarchical and rigid. As the colony grows, an increasingly complex legal system may emerge on the back of multifaceted socioeconomic processes, yet it is still likely to be affected by scarcity of resources and a psychologically challenging living environment. As such, it would be necessary to create an authority that would enforce these laws, ensure their effectiveness, and manage those situations where these laws are challenged. Indeed, the latter is inevitable, both because the laws must evolve to adequately reflect a dynamic socioeconomic and technological environment, as well as for the reasons of human nature, where one has a propensity to take advantage of others. 44 With these factors considered, it is difficult to imagine that modern legal systems we currently have on Earth would be appropriate to govern the life on Mars.

2.2. Sovereignty

The question of sovereignty of permanent colonies on the surface of Mars and, possibly, in the Martian orbit is one that at present is not well articulated or defined in the current version of the Outer Space Treaty. At present, it is not possible for a nation or an entity to lay claim of sovereignty over a celestial body or any artificial habitable human outpost, such as a space station. However, it is not clear whether this principle can be upheld as we move into advanced stages of peaceful space colonization, such as that of Mars. Multiple models have been proposed. For instance, Bruhns and Haqq‐Misra suggest a so‐called “pragmatic approach to sovereignty on Mars”, where they explore the benefits of adopting a policy that balances “bounded first possession” against mandatory planetary parks. The former would allow nations to hold legal jurisdiction and exclusive rights to economic benefits derived from a parcel of land, whereas the latter would enable protection of areas of natural, ecological, scientific or cultural significance for the benefit of global community. The proponents of this approach assume that the private property rights‐based economy is the best option for the development of Mars society, and it may indeed be so for the advanced stage of Mars colonization. The relationships between such colonies would be managed diplomatically in accordance with international treaties, and if necessary, the resolution of conflicts may be administered by a formal commission, agency or tribunal with representatives from Mars colonies. Indeed, Bruhns and Haqq‐Misra suggest establishing a Mars Secretariat, the role of which would be to formally enable and facilitate diplomatic communication between interested parties. Broadly, this approach reflects the general principles of the Outer Space Treaty, while providing a more practical model for the management of resources and economic benefits that can be derived from Martian colonies by introducing changes to the non‐appropriation and province of mankind principles. 45 Clarification of the rules that govern the derivation and use of Martian resources by nations and private entities is essential to avoid conflict between future colonies at the stage when resource extraction and exchange would become possible.

2.3. Human Rights

It remains a subject of debate to which extent human rights can be ensured when one considers establishing a permanent colony on Mars. Indeed, there is little doubt that the journey first colonists undertake would be a “one‐way” endeavor. That is, they will have no physical means of ever returning to Earth. The romanticism of being the first to plant a step on the surface of Mars and the overall sense of this effort as being a giant leap for humanity has led to many expressing their strong interest in taking part in the project. At present, these enthusiasts are prepared to sign over their most basic rights of free choice of residence, profession, right to adequate medical treatment and many others for this opportunity. But do we have a legal and in fact a moral right to knowingly subject others to such a life, even with their consent? Below are examples of three different considerations that could play a significant role in such a discussion.

In the first scenario, let us consider a physical illness or mental breakdown that would lead to the volunteer requesting to withdraw their consent to be part of this journey. Would the organizers have a legal right to enforce the original agreement when the participant invokes their human rights and requests their return to Earth through a legal mechanism? Indeed, let us imagine an Earth‐based experiment where a person is subjected to the life‐term isolation in a relatively good, yet significantly restricted environment, e.g., an Antarctic base. The volunteers would document their consent to spend the rest of their lives under the experimental conditions, however at some stage would change their mind and withdraw their consent, requesting that they are removed from the experiment. Would the legal system and public opinion support the company in their choice of forcefully retaining the volunteer under experimental conditions in accordance with their original properly documented consent agreement? It is difficult to imagine that they would, as this would violate the basic human rights of the individual. If so, who will be financially responsible for retrieving these volunteers and returning them to Earth? This situation merits careful legal consideration prior to such a flight.

Let us consider the second scenario where the volunteer legally challenges the agreement on the basis of failure of the entity to comply with promises and conditions of the original agreement. It is hardly difficult to imagine that the reality and specific conditions of life on Mars will be different from even our best estimates and expectations. If these differences are quite substantial, mission participants may give legal grounds for a complaint. Considering that the first wave of colonizers may remain formally under jurisdiction of their country of origin, they would likely retain the full rights to call on their respective legal system and body of authority to protect their interests. Not only can it develop into a complicated legal case for which no precedent exists, it may potentially force the entity in question to take certain measures and as a result jeopardize the success of the mission or program. It is therefore likely that a range of legal and financial obligations will be placed on travel organizers to deal with such complaints. While it may be impossible to retrieve and return colonists to Earth during early stages of colonization, technological advances may eventually make such missions technically possible but prohibitively expensive endeavors. In the worst case scenario, a court's order may be issued, with the enforcement machinery ordering the organizers to take actions on starting the “return project.”

The third scenario that we are going to consider relates to the rights of children born on Mars. Reproductive rights are at the core of many legal systems, and as such would apply to colonists that settle on Mars. These include the right to decide on the number and spacing of offspring, and the right to attain an appropriate level of sexual and reproductive healthcare. Thus, one would expect children to be born on Mars. In fact, some argue that these children would be critical for the long‐term success of the colony as they should be better suited, both physically and psychologically, to the unique living conditions of the Red Planet. They would also be the driving force for the growth and development of the colony, as one could hardly expect all of its inhabitants to be shipped from Earth.

Again, drawing parallels to current legislation on Earth, children born to parents of particular nation would likely inherit the citizenship of their parents, able to exercise the rights of that particular legal system. This in itself may represent a challenge, since given a very small size of the colony, parents may belong to different systems, each having its own idea of how rights of children should be protected. Even within a single system, it is rather challenging to envisage what instruments and mechanisms will be put in place to protect the rights of children on Mars. Similarly, what authority would manage the relationships between children and their parents, or between parents in the case of their separation and divorce? Furthermore, community and family support are critical for families during the time of hardship or conflict, and children on Mars would most certainly lack this safety net.

However, before we even consider potential threats to children's health and wellbeing, at which point would standards of living on Mars reach a minimum acceptable level of health and safety for the reproduction to become ethical? Furthermore, even if we have sufficient technical capability to maintain a decent quality of health and safety of Mars, we would certainly not be able to provide the same degree of choice, e.g., in terms of education or profession, to these children as those available to children on Earth. What legal rights would these children have to request their relocation to Earth? Indeed, are we prepared to rationalize the life of isolation and restriction these children would have to endure—the life they have never consented to. Could—or should—they be considered by the relevant authorities as kids that are retained under what most describe as rather harsh or even inhumane living conditions? Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “ Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily ”; article 24 states: “ Children have the right to good quality health care – the best health care possible .”; and Article 27 requests an adequate standard of living. 46

Apart from these legal considerations, ethical considerations related to the reproduction on Mars may be a significant issue, with some opinions presented in the following section.

We should also mention that these considerations are not exclusive to Mars. For instance, any woman of childbearing age is required to undergo mandatory pregnancy testing before she is allowed to take part in missions that involve extreme conditions, such as an expedition to Antarctica under the U.S. Antarctic Program. 47 And this is considering that it is possible and comparatively easy for the woman to be retrieved from the expedition in the case of medical emergency. In fact, the very nature of such expeditions is temporary, and all members are expected to return home within a relatively short period of time. This is in stark contrast to expeditions to Mars, where participants are expected to be responsible for their own healthcare and wellbeing and have to exclusively rely on their own human and technological capacity permanently.

Further, as the colonist population grows, it is likely that homicides, robberies, and other criminal actions will occur. These events would necessitate some form of criminal justice and punitive system to be established on Mars at the further stages of colonization to prosecute and deliver punitive measures to offenders. Yet, with every pair of hands and skill set being critical for the success of the colony, to which extent would conventional corrective actions be feasible within the unique environment of a space colony? Therefore, the question remains: which laws would apply?

2.4. Abortion

The issues around abortion are closely related to those of human rights, yet often are considered separately due to their intimate relationship to cultural and religious beliefs of different groups of people. Presently, in many nations abortion is viewed as a right of women and a matter of private choice, whereas in others it is legally considered a crime. Considering that a colony on Mars may comprise representatives from different cultural and religious belief systems, it may be difficult to design a policy that would be acceptable to all. Nevertheless, some expect the abortion policy of a Martian colony to be more liberal compared to that on Earth, particularly when it comes to choice based on medical grounds. Indeed, pregnancy termination may be required in instances where pregnancy endangers the life and health of the woman. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine that harsh Martian conditions would be suited for children with severe debilitating medical conditions simply due to the complete lack of infrastructure to afford them a decent quality of life. Caring for such a child would also be quite consuming in terms of time, human and physical resources, potentially redirecting these resources from activities critical to colony survival and development. Beyond these considerations, it is not clear what other medical and biological challenges of reproduction and living on Mars would inform the abortion policy. 48 It is likely that it would emerge and evolve in parallel with our understanding of what life on Mars would entail.

3. Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations and issues around Mars colonization can be intuitively separated into two significantly different groups of questions, namely:

  • • Ethical considerations with respect to humans, both colonists and people of Earth, and
  • • Ethical considerations towards Mars itself, including possible extra‐terrestrial life.

Both are important, and below we will outline some opinions, sometimes controversial, around the ethics related to Mars colonization.

3.1. General

Decades of intense efforts by thousands of people and billions of dollars in funding would likely culminate in sending a small group of four to five individuals on a one‐way trip to Mars. The success of the mission would depend on how well these individuals can work together to handle an environment that is extreme both physically and psychologically. It is therefore likely that the greater good of the group and thus the success of the mission would supersede that of individuals, a pattern of behavior that is not typical of people in their natural habitat due to the differences in judgment of values. For this reason, a framework of decisions that benefit the group over an individual is likely to be defined, with considerations over such personal matters as termination of defective fetuses, euthanasia of individuals suffering from incurable debilitating conditions, and the act of sacrifice of individual life for the sake of the colony. 48 There are evident similarities with sacrifices made by individuals during exploration endeavors during the Age of Discovery on Earth. 49 Yet, these historic experiences also tell us that it is virtually impossible to foresee and control the behavior of individuals and groups when subjected to extreme survival situations. From this perspective, it is difficult to say what control if any flight organizations would have over the life of the colony.

NASA Human Research Program aims to study the risks associated with space flight over extended periods of time. Isolation and closed environment are some of the known factors to cause psychiatric distress. 50 These medical conditions can be as damaging to the overall health of the space traveller and success of the mission as effects of space radiation, bone and muscle loss, and treatment of sustained injuries. Studies involving individuals and groups subjected to isolation have shown that social isolation stimulated brain activity toward short‐term self‐preservation, characterized by enhanced implicit vigilance for social threats even in the absence of thereof. Isolation also promoted more abrasive and defensive behavior in individuals, which may negatively affect the social dynamics of a small crew, even to the extent of mission sabotage. These issues, both psychological and physiological, are difficult if not impossible to address, and are independent of cultural, religious or educational background. Knowing the significant risks that cannot be mitigated, how can we make this venture ethical? Of course, all participants will be made fully aware of all known risks associated with the mission, and asked for their consent. However, does informed consent immediately make it ethical? Before we can answer this question, a wide discussion involving stakeholders and general public is certainly necessary to draw a line of what sacrifices are we prepared to take to make space travel and colonization a reality, and whether the benefits of spacefaring truly outweigh all the costs and risks of such adventures. 51

3.2. Human Reproduction—Ethical Considerations

Biological and social challenges of human reproduction at a permanent Mars base are one more serious consideration that could potentially undermine the success of extra‐terrestrial colonization. 48 Studies of human population dynamics on Earth suggest that the success of settlements on Mars would be inherently linked to the ability of early settlers to produce a certain number of viable offspring as these would be critical for the survival and growth of the colonies as self‐sustained entities. Resettlement of individuals from Earth should provide the foundations for a colony, yet overtime should become only a secondary source of residents. According to Impey, a population of at least 5000 is required to ensure long‐term survival of an extra‐terrestrial colony. 52 It is difficult to estimate the physical and financial resources that would be required to realize a colony of such a size on Mars, and without a doubt would take a number of decades from the first successful mission. Indeed, the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System is expected to carry only a small number of passengers, with a real possibility that not all of these individuals would be able to survive the 7–9 month‐long journey and the initial period of settlement and adaptation on Mars. This is not to say that such large‐scale transportation missions are not being seriously considered, and overtime it is expected that these missions would become more affordable and safer.

It is also difficult to predict the number of individuals that would be prepared to travel to and live on Mars. Indeed, on Earth, migration is an ancient phenomenon, yet it often carries significant negative impacts on health and mental well‐being of both the migrants and the local population. 53 This is often due to a number of factors, such as being not fully prepared to commit and adjust to the new environment, differences in cultural, social and legal norms, and others. Differences in the physical environment may also negatively affect the physical health and wellbeing of newcomers. From this perspective, individuals that are born and brought up within the colony may be better suited to physical and psychological conditions of Mars, and as such may be better prepared to embrace life as part of a colony.

However, realizing sustainable human reproduction on Mars may not be without its challenges. For one, the number of available individuals would be small, affecting genetic diversity and increasing the likelihood of recessive genetic disorders. It will therefore be essential to enforce genetic, epigenetic and phenotypic screening of potential parents prior to conception, and then monitor the health and development of the fetus across all stages of the pregnancy to anticipate and minimize the risks of offspring being born with debilitating conditions. In addition to a legislative framework surrounding termination of fetuses that are unlikely to result in a birth of a healthy child, 48 the same body of arguments may be applied to define which members of the colony should be encouraged or actively discouraged from having offspring.

Another consideration is the potential threat to the entire colony that may arise as a result of reproduction. Indeed, the success of the mission during the journey and within the early stages of the settlement is inherently linked to efficient utilization of human and physical resources. Bearing a child would divert some of these critical (and very limited) resources from the needs of the crew and activities associated with the survival of the crew during the flight and on the surface. Clearly, this warrants further investigation to have a better understanding of all the challenges and opportunities presented by pregnancy and child bearing on health and wellbeing of the crew during early space missions. 54 , 55

Finally, the general question of the growth of population in Mars colonies could be an issue. Indeed, will “native” Mars colonists accept newcomers, especially if living conditions are hard? After which period of time and at what stage of the colony development could they claim the land, or Mars in its entirety, as their property? In short, at which point in time would they come to consider themselves as the real Martians?

3.3. Social Isolation and no Privacy—Rolled Into One

Considering the aforementioned moral and ethical challenges that would need to be reconciled before we venture to Mars, it is evident that the definition of value of human life, choice, and privacy may take quite a different meaning on Mars to that on Earth. From this, one can conclude that the moral and ethical belief system of Martian society would be different to that of their Earthly counterparts, yet these individuals will still be subject to laws of the nation of their citizenship, at least at early stages of colonization. 48 Furthermore, the role of these early settlers is to explore their environment and its effects on human body and social structure. It is likely that these individuals will be subject to ongoing monitoring and surveillance, which can have serious detrimental effects on their mental and physical health. These can exacerbate mental health consequences of physical confinement and social isolation, causing excessive suspiciousness, abrasiveness, stress, depression, and fatigue. 52

In his “Those sent to live and die on the red planet face untold risk of mental illness,” Chambers explores a scenario of what might happen when the psychological pressure of isolation and a complete lack of privacy tip the colonists over the edge of mental breakdown, prompting them to temporarily or even permanently sever these surveillance channels. 56 There is little published research on the extent of extreme psychological burden Mars colonists would be subjected to as part of, e.g., Mars One mission. Yet understanding these would be necessary to inform the selection of prospective participants. For example, resilience, adaptability, curiosity, creativity, and ability to place trust in others were listed as key traits for applicants to Mars One program, yet it is not clear how these will be measured and evaluated, and which traits will be deemed as not appropriate for the mission. Furthermore, it is not evident whether these traits are considered critical for minimizing the likelihood of one developing a mental illness because of prolonged social isolation or whether they are predictors of better emotional stability. Regardless of their attitude, there is little doubt that some of the selected individuals will develop mental illness, since even the most experienced members of space crew develop symptoms of anxiety, depression and apathy after extended period of time in space. This is despite decades of training, and a clear understanding that they will return to Earth upon completion of the mission.

According to an expert in psychology of space exploration and a Principal Investigator on several NASA‐funded and ESA‐sponsored international psychological research projects Kanas, upon departing Earth on their one way journey to Mars, the crew are likely to experience extreme homesickness, boredom, and loneliness ( Figure 3 ), which can lead to anything from dysphoria to psychosis and suicidal thinking. Upon reaching the surface of Mars, the colonists will swap their small spacecraft for an equally restricted base environment (≈50 m 2 per person) in which they would spend the vast majority of their time. 57 This is because Martian atmosphere is unbreathable for a human, with ≈96% CO 2 and <≈1% of O 2 , as opposed to <≈1% CO 2 and 21% of O 2 on Earth. The surface temperature on the Red Planet averages −55 °C (218 K), reaching a peak of ≈20 °C at the equator, and a low of ≈−153 °C at the poles. There is evidence that the enjoyment of natural outdoor environment and diverse sensory experiences reduces stress and improves mental health. 58

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Social isolation on Mars would be a great source of stress to the colonists. While Earth is in close proximity to the International Space Station (ISS), it becomes a remote planet when seen from the surface of the Moon and is desperately lost in space when observed from the surface of Mars. Earth photos credit: NASA/Jet propulsion Lab.

“Worse still, imagine a mission that has no Third Quarter. Or no quarters at all! Step forward Mars One. During such a mission, our contestants will be without any of the psychological buffers that every crew has had since Gagarin. No real time interaction with family. No instant access to mission control. No option of returning home” —writes Erik Seedhouse. 59

3.4. Advocacy for Mars—Is It Ethical at All to Colonize It?

One of the strongest arguments in favor of Mars colonization is the survival of humankind in the case of a global event that would significantly compromise or even destroy modern civilization, e.g., a global catastrophe that would make Earth no longer habitable for our species. Having a distant outpost on Mars would allow us to escape the consequences of such an event, and persist as a species. Yet our history tells us that colonists, no matter how responsible, would inevitable affect the environment they colonize. Although our chances of discovering intelligent life in space are quite low, 60 there remains a possibility of discovery of abiogenesis on Mars. Such a discovery would have tremendous scientific and philosophical significance, providing a second, potentially novel example of biochemistry and evolutionary history, and providing evidence for the phenomenon of life being spread across the universe. And most importantly, as an astrobiologist McKay points out, this will be an ultimate proof that extra‐terrestrial life in higher forms is possible. 61

However, what if the native life, no matter how primitive, is incompatible with out notion of what Mars should become in order to accommodate human life. While the environment of Mars is certainly harsh, it may still support extremophiles. Indeed, on Earth there are a number of examples of microorganisms that can withstand extreme temperatures, e.g., Pyrococcus furiosus and Pyrolobus fumarii , pH, e.g., Natronobacterium and Clostridium paradoxum , pressures, e.g., Pyrococcus sp., and radiation conditions, e.g., Thermococcus gammatolerans . If native life is discovered, should it be preserved and protected? Would it even be possible to discover and recognize these most probably microscopic organisms before changing their environment? Currently, to reduce the possibility of contaminating other worlds with microorganisms from Earth, efforts are made to ensure that both the robotic and human exploration of extra‐terrestrial environments is biologically reversible. It should therefore be possible to reverse any possible contamination of Mars if signs of abiogenesis are detected.

However, should we in fact protect this life? On Earth, microbial decontamination is widespread and in fact critical to food safety, healthcare, and in many instances our survival. At which point our own need for survival would give us permission to threaten theirs? 62 If life on Mars is discovered, it may be possible to consider other celestial bodies, e.g., the moons or sufficiently large asteroids, yet at present point in time, Mars appears to be the humanity's best option. 63

Even in the absence of native life forms, there is an obligation for the colonists to attempt to preserve where possible the unspoiled alien environment, to ensure our sustained survival on the Red Planet. Yet, it is unclear how these ideas of preservation of native environment would balance those of terraforming of Mars through global engineering to make its surface and climate hospitable to humans. If attainable, the latter would make colonization of Mars safer and more sustainable. 64 Clearly, it would not be possible to transport all the raw materials required for sustained growth and operation of a colony from Earth. Thus, these would have to be extracted from Martian environment, inevitably changing it.

“Do we deserve to become multi‐planetary? Let us become productive participants in the glorious dance of life. If we can dream of the insurmountable task of becoming multi‐planetary, then surely we can fathom expending the energy, resources and willpower that come with making mindful purchase and waste decisions. If we can succeed in preserving our current planet and its ecosystems, we save human consciousness and the integrity of our values. As Elon Musk describes his desire to keep the “light of consciousness” alive, I press that we also ensure it's brightly illuminated and worthy of traversing this magnificent universe,” writes Shivika Sinha. 65

Apart from moral aspects surrounding the protection of possible life on Mars, there are potential legal issues directly related to preservation of Martian environment. Indeed the Outer Space Treaty does not directly prohibit colonization of Mars, but it explicitly states that “States Parties to the Treaty… pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extra‐terrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose” (Outer Space Treaty, Article IX 29 ). Yet, one can hardly imagine Mars colonization to proceed without any significant effect on the planet, let alone Mars terraforming, a process that assumes a significant and irreversible transformation of the environment. In this context, the Outer Space Treaty prescribes international consultations to take place before proceeding with such a project. Yet, what would be considered a harmful effect? It is definitely a gray area with considerable room for interpretation. Moreover, The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) has also issued the Planetary Protection Policy, designed to regulate biological and other types of contaminations of celestial bodies stemming from human space exploration efforts. 66

4. Consideration of Resources

Finally, let us consider the financial and resource aspects of Mars colonization projects and Mars exploration in general. Could it be a lucrative venture, or will Martian colony become a “groundnut scheme” of our generation?

In recent years, the idea of sustainable space economy where nations and private enterprises may derive financial benefits from extraction and utilization of extra‐terrestrial material and energy resources has gained notable attention. The proposed activities range from mining asteroids and the Moon to space tourism and development of large‐scale on‐orbit platforms that could offer a range of technical capabilities. Development of scientific research stations on the surface of large asteroids, the Moon and Mars are also considered. 67

These are very ambitious yet tremendously costly projects that are highly risky from an investment point of view. What is the current financing model for Mars One project? The realization of Mars One mission to bring humans to Mars is managed by the not‐for‐profit Mars One Foundation, which relies on established aerospace suppliers to develop and assemble its aerospace hardware systems. At present, the cost of delivering a crew of four colonists to the surface of Mars is estimated at about US$ 12 billion with the cumulative cost of about US$ 100 billion, 5 however, their business case would accommodate twice that budget. Although Mars One is in part financed through money from donors across 100 countries and their numbers are growing, the donated money is not sufficient to fully finance the operation. As such, the non‐for‐profit arm of the business works closely with the for‐profit Mars One Ventures, the focus of which is to derive and maximize revenue from activities associated with the mission. These include sales of merchandise, brand partnerships, speaking engagements, and, once the mission is closer to the first human launch to Mars, broadcasting rights, Intellectual Property rights, entertainment content, and events. A portion of the proceeds from these revenue streams (as 5% of gross turnover) feed into the mission. 68

It is evident that at present any potential revenue derived from the mission centers on selling the unique historic experience of sending humans to Mars, rather than from discovery and extraction of resources. There have been speculations by Mars colonization enthusiasts, such as Walker and Zubrin that it may be possible for Mars colony to become profitable by exploiting vast domestic resources of deuterium, which can be used as fuel for fusion reactors. 69 Yet others, including Musk, argue that it is unlikely that Mars would offer anything material that would be financially viable to export to Earth. 70

So, what might be the major benefit of Mars exploration? Should we not start by fixing our own planet and learning from this experience before attempting to conquer another outpost? Stratford tackles this notion from a different angle, and proposes to consider Mars colonization as a stimulus that is desperately needed by our contemporary society to move forward and once again regain our ability to tackle pressing problems head on:

“We need an inspired generation to take fast action on so many fronts, but so far, our generation is not inspired. We have instead grown cynical and soft. Sending humans to Mars is the wildcard our world needs to change us from a stagnating, inward‐looking society into a problem solving, frontier‐looking society. It can be done now, and humans can be on Mars within the next ten to fifteen years. We just have to make that decision to go. If we can do this with Mars, this will be the first step forward for our society becoming a “can do” world. Let's take that step” —writes Frank Stratford . 71

5. Quo Vadis, the Only Civilization We Know?

Even among space enthusiasts, there is a rich diversity of opinions regarding “if,” “how” and “when” we should proceed with our space exploration and colonization ambitions. Unless we face a major cataclysm that would immediately threaten our existence on Earth, it is unlikely that a consensus on whether we need a Martian outpost would be reached any time soon. As it stands now, Mars One and similar projects are likely to continue, evolving and morphing as we learn more about the worlds beyond our own. As we gain new technological capabilities and grow our presence in the near‐Earth space, with both areas showing no sign of slowing down, we may be faced with moral and ethical challenges of sending humans to Mars far sooner than anticipated.

At present, it is challenging to comprehensively outline all related questions, let alone offer feasible solutions to these formidable challenges. The aim of this brief Essay is to introduce the interested reader to a vast range of arguments pro and contra Mars colonization, and many often contradictory and antilogous drivers for this project. This is not surprising for such a global challenge, and there is little doubt more questions will emerge, from shorter‐term “Would the colonists be representative of the global human population?” and “Who will finally decide who gets to go?” to longer reaching question around legal matters, the growth of Mars population and development of the social life on Mars.

Even the selection of the most proper “model of civilization” is still an open question. Indeed, there is no monolithic human civilization on Earth to mirror. Furthermore, establishment of societies of altruistic technologically savvy individuals may be far more challenging that it is anticipated. Indeed, with no relevant experience in building similar isolated, artificially built societies, the experience of polar investigators and long‐term space station expeditions, possibly complemented with the long‐term Moon station experience, will have to be used as the best available approximation for the self‐establishing, self‐organizing Mars colonies.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by OSTIn‐SRP/EDB, the National Research Foundation (Singapore), Academic Research Fund AcRF Tier 1 RP 6/16 (Singapore), and the George Washington Institute for Nanotechnology (USA). I.L. acknowledges the support from the School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.

Levchenko I., Xu S., Mazouffre S., Keidar M., Bazaka K., Global Challenges 2019, 3 , 1800062 10.1002/gch2.201800062 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]

Contributor Information

Igor Levchenko, Email: [email protected] , Email: [email protected] .

Kateryna Bazaka, Email: [email protected] .

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The pursuit of finding habitable conditions or life outside our planet has always been fascinating. In terms of habitability, Mars is the most Earth‐like planet within our solar system as it displays the highest Earth similarity index of 0.7 based on physical determinants such as radius, mass, and temperature ...

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Mars Research

Since our first close-up picture of Mars in 1965, spacecraft voyages to the Red Planet have revealed a world strangely familiar, yet different enough to challenge our perceptions of what makes a planet work. Every time we feel close to understanding Mars, new discoveries send us straight back to the drawing board to revise existing theories.

You’d think Mars would be easier to understand. Like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps and clouds in its atmosphere, seasonal weather patterns, volcanoes, canyons and other recognizable features. However, conditions on Mars vary wildly from what we know on our own planet.

Over the past three decades, spacecraft have shown us that Mars is rocky, cold, and dry beneath its hazy, pink sky. We’ve discovered that today’s Martian wasteland hints at a formerly volatile world where volcanoes once raged, meteors plowed deep craters, and flash floods rushed over the land. And Mars continues to throw out new enticements with each landing or orbital pass made by our spacecraft.

The Defining Question for Mars Exploration: Life on Mars?

Among our discoveries about Mars, one stands out above all others: the possible presence of liquid water on Mars, either in its ancient past or preserved in the subsurface today. Water is key because almost everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life. If Mars once had liquid water, or still does today, it’s compelling to ask whether any microscopic life forms could have developed on its surface. Is there any evidence of life in the planet’s past? If so, could any of these tiny living creatures still exist today? Imagine how exciting it would be to answer, “Yes!!”

Even if Mars is devoid of past or present life, however, there’s still much excitement on the horizon. We ourselves might become the “life on Mars” should humans choose to travel there one day. Meanwhile, we still have a lot to learn about this amazing planet and its extreme environments.

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Assessment of Mars Science and Mission Priorities (2003)

Chapter: 1. introduction, 1 introduction.

Mars occupies a special place in the U.S. program of space exploration, and also in the minds of the public, because it is the most Earth-like planet in the solar system and the place where the first detection of extraterrestrial life seems most likely to be made. Another important reason for studying Mars is to be able to compare it with the other terrestrial planets and to learn how the differences among these planets relate to differences in their formation and evolution, stemming from factors such as their distances from the Sun, their initial sizes, and their proximity to Jupiter.

The Mars Surveyor Program, begun in 1996 after a 20-year hiatus in (successful) U.S. Mars missions, was to be an ambitious exploration of the Red Planet, inspired by the success of the modestly supported Pathfinder Lander mission in that year, and also by reports that the martian meteorite designated ALH84001 contains possible evidence of extraterrestrial life. However, with the failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions in 1999, the Surveyor program came to be seen as unworkable, and in the time since those failures the strategy for Mars exploration has been systematically rethought and its more ambitious goals have been scaled back. A new Mars Exploration Program (MEP)—no longer the Mars Surveyor Program—has been developed, building on earlier missions and on the success of an ongoing orbital mission, Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), which has already returned a wealth of data that have revolutionized our understanding of the planet. Missions to Mars will be launched at every launch opportunity, i.e., on approximately 26-month centers.

The new Mars Exploration Program was announced by NASA’s Office of Space Science on October 26, 2000. (The MEP is described in Appendix A of this report.) The task of the present study was to assess the program in the light of recommendations made earlier to NASA by the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) and other advisory panels (these recommendations are summarized in Appendix B of this report) and to consider the degree to which recent discoveries suggest a reordering of priorities.

The task of reviewing Mars science is daunting. An exhaustive summary would be far beyond the scope of National Research Council (NRC) reports, and COMPLEX is quick to admit that this report is far from exhaustive. The report first reviews nine topics that comprehensively describe contemporary Mars science (Chapters 2 through 10 ), working from the interior of the planet outward. Each chapter summarizes recommendations that have been made relative to that topic. Section numbers in square brackets (e.g., [1.10]) reference specific recommendations that appear in Appendix B . Rather than discussing a topic of Mars science, Chapter 11 addresses a technique, and a particularly important one: the collection and return of samples from Mars. Chapter 12 then presents a summary discussion of priorities in the Mars Exploration Program in the light of earlier recommendations and current

realities, and Chapter 13 concludes the report. A key to the labyrinth of acronyms used in space exploration is included as Appendix C .

This study does not treat the satellites of Mars—Phobos and Deimos—as these have not been a quest of the NASA flight program, and their science is rather far removed from that of the terrestrial planets, being more closely aligned with that of the asteroids.

The Mars Exploration Program consists of flight missions, and the task of the present study is to discuss the science and priorities connected with flight missions. However, the exploration of Mars involves many modes of data acquisition and scientific inquiry, and it is important to keep in mind the essential elements of Mars science that stem from Earth-based research. These include not only the analysis of data from flight missions, without which the data themselves would be useless, but also purely ground-based research: telescopic studies, theoretical modeling and analysis, and a variety of studies in terrestrial laboratories. Because this report is directed toward an assessment of the Mars Exploration Program, it rarely addresses the important science carried out in Earth-based studies, but these must be considered an important part of any integrated scientific exploration. Some examples follow:

• Telescopic studies. Continuing telescopic observation of Mars (Figure 1.1) has played a key role in demonstrating that the surface of Mars changes on a relatively short time scale (examples of such changes include seasonal cycles, dust storms, and evolution of the polar caps). Telescopic and spacecraft data are highly synergistic, and each type plays a role in supporting the other. NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility, a 3-m infrared-optimized telescope on Mauna Kea, is an important facility for planetary science because it can be dedicated to mission support. 1 Near-infrared spectra can be used to distinguish between water and CO 2 ice clouds, 2 and the 4.6-µm CO band can be used to monitor the dust content of the atmosphere. Atmospheric water vapor has been observed remotely 3 , 4 , 5 and in situ by the Viking 6 , 7 and Pathfinder 8 missions. Support for future robotic and possible manned missions to Mars will require a long climatological baseline. The long baseline, partially obtained with ground-based and Hubble Space Telescope data, will also contribute to an understanding of the water cycles between the atmosphere, regolith, and polar caps, as well as providing spatially resolved data on volatile cycles of H 2 O, CO 2 , CO, and O 3 .

• Theoretical models. Models are an essential component of any scientific endeavor. Examples of theoretical planetary studies are those that treat the geodynamics of Mars, its interior structure, atmospheric loss and fractionation, 9 and global climate and general circulation models. Climate models, which are currently adapted from terrestrial general circulation models, are becoming increasingly important, yet they will require much additional observational data, particularly of surface-atmosphere energy and gas fluxes, for model validation and verification. 10 The geodynamical investigations often study controls on the obliquity of Mars, and the variability of that parameter, which is so crucial to the planet’s climate history and the prospects of life on it. 11 Theoretical studies of the interior attempt to model Mars’s core, the composition and viscous behavior of the mantle (the latter controls the tectonics of martian crust), and the magnetic record in the planet. 12

• Martian meteorites. Evidence is very strong that the SNC a category of meteorites is cratering debris from Mars. Studies of this small group of meteorites in terrestrial laboratories have provided invaluable, if fragmentary, information about the geochemistry and chronology of the planet (see Chapter 3 ). 13 , 14 Five of the SNC meteorites being studied were collected from the antarctic ice sheet by teams of searchers supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution (others are finds from deserts, or observed falls). The antarctic meteorite program was instituted in 1976; under this program, teams of experts search areas known to contain a concentration of meteorites for 6 weeks every austral summer. The research and analysis that led to the conclusion that SNC meteorites come from Mars is an excellent example of how support in the basic research of planetary materials has contributed significantly to our understanding of the planet.

mars research report

FIGURE 1.1 Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 took these images of Mars between April 27 and May 6, 1999, when Mars was 87 million kilometers from Earth. Together, the four images show the entire martian surface, upon which features as small as 19 kilometers across are visible. NASA image courtesy of Steven Lee (University of Colorado), James Bell (Cornell University), and Michael Wolff (Space Science Institute).

• Astrobiological research. Studies of Earth’s deep-sea hydrothermal environments, hot springs, the deep subsurface, alkaline or acidic environments, and sea ice have revealed amazing microbial diversity in the form of uncultured organisms from environmental extremes. Some of these habitats are analogous to past and present martian environments where life may have arisen or might continue to exist. The search for living organisms is no longer constrained by a requirement for photosynthesis. Microbial species capable of subsurface growth in the presence of high concentrations of metals, high and low pH, and in either extremely cold or hot conditions are known. Despite discoveries of environmental extremes compatible with life, we have only limited knowledge of microbial diversity, the conditions under which such species live, and how interactions between microbial forms modulate planetary change. Ground-based astrobiology supplies a clear rationale and direction for the selection of landing sites on Mars, allows for the proper design and interpretation of in situ experiments, and provides the basis for life detection and planetary protection. It is imperative to develop sensitive life-detection protocols that will not be confused by terrestrial contamination; we must establish effective means for sterilizing returned samples without compromising their value for nonbiological studies; and through expanded knowledge about potential diversity of the microbial world, we must explore how ancient microbial life might have affected planetary processes on Mars. Through these investigations, we will be positioned to optimize information from Mars in situ and sample-return missions.

• Other laboratory studies. Inputs into theoretical studies, modeling, instrument design, and spacecraft missions are in part derived from terrestrial laboratory studies. In these, basic measurements are made of chemical

reaction rates, absorption cross sections, scattering cross sections, and other parameters that are important to studies of the martian surface and atmosphere and understanding of processes in them. 15

COMPLEX stresses that continued support of these and other areas of Earth-based research is essential to a balanced program of Mars research (see Chapter 12 in this report).

1. M.S. Hanner, K.J. Meech, E. Barker, M.J.S. Belton, R. Binzel, and J. Spencer, The Future Role of the IRTF — Reportto NASA from the NASA IRTF/Keck Management Operations Working Group , 1998.

2. See, for example, D.R. Klassen, J.F. Bell III, R.R. Howell, P.E. Johnson, W. Golisch, C.D. Kaminski, and D. Griep, “Infrared Spectral Imaging of Martian Clouds and Ices,” Icarus 138: 36–48, 1999.

3. E.S. Barker, “Martian Atmospheric Water Vapor Observations: 1972–74 Apparition,” Icarus 28: 247–268, 1976.

4. B. Rizk, R.M. Haberle, D.M. Hunten, and J.B. Pollack, “Meridional Transport and Water-Reservoirs in Southern Mars During 1988–1989,” Icarus 118: 39–50, 1995.

5. A.L. Sprague, D.M. Hunten, R.E. Hill, L.R. Doose, and B. Rizk, “Martian Atmospheric Water Abundances: 1996– 1999,” Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society 32: 1093, 2000.

6. C.B. Farmer, D.W. Davies, A.L. Holland, D.D. La Porte, and P.E. Doms, “Mars: Water Vapor Observations from the Viking Orbiters,” Journal of Geophysical Research 82: 4225–4248, 1977.

7. B.M. Jakosky, and C.B. Farmer, “The Seasonal and Global Behavior of Water Vapor in the Mars Atmosphere: Complete Global Results of the Viking Atmospheric Water Detector Experiment,” Journal of Geophysical Research 87: 2999–3019, 1982.

8. D.V. Titov, W.J. Markiewicz, N. Thomas, H.U. Keller, R.M. Sablotny, M.G. Tomasko, M.T. Lemmon, and P.H. Smith, “Measurements of the Atmospheric Water Vapor on Mars by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder,” Journal ofGeophysical Research 104: 9019–9026, 1999.

9. See, for example, D.M. Hunten, R.O. Pepin, and T.C. Owen,“Elemental Fractionation Patterns in Planetary Atmo-spheres,” in Meteorites and the Early Solar System , J. Kerridge and M.S. Matthews (eds.), University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1988, pp. 565–591.

10. See, for example, R.H. Haberle, “Early Mars Climate Models,” Journal of Geophysical Research 103: 28467–28480, 1998; and S.W. Bougher, S. Engel, R.G. Roble, and B. Foster,“Comparative Planet Thermospheres: 3. Solar Cycle Variation of Global Structure and Winds at Solstices,” Journal of Geophysical Research 105: 17669–17692, 2000.

11. See, for example, G. Spada, and L. Alfonsi,“Obliquity Variations Due to Climate Friction on Mars: Darwin Versus Layered Models,” Journal of Geophysical Research 103: 28599–28606, 1998; and B.G. Bills, “Obliquity-Oblateness Feedback on Mars,” Journal of Geophysical Research 104: 30773–30798, 1999.

12. See, for example, C.L. Johnson, S.C. Solomon, J.W. Head, R.J. Phillips, D.E. Smith, and M.T. Zuber,“Lithospheric Loading by the Northern Polar Cap on Mars,” Icarus 144: 313–328, 2000; K.F. Sprenke and L.L. Baker,“Magnetiza-tion, Paleomagnetic Poles, and Polar Wander on Mars,” Icarus 147: 26–34, 2000; and P. Defraigne, V. Dehant, and T. Van Hoolst, “Steady-State Convection in Mars’ Mantle,” Planetary and Space Science 49: 501–509, 2001.

13. R.C. Wiens, R.H. Becker, and R.O. Pepin,“The Case for Martian Origin of the Shergottites: II. Trapped and Indig-enous Gas Components in EETA 79001 Glass,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 77: 149–158, 1986.

14. H.Y. McSween, “What We Have Learned About Mars from SNC Meteorites,” Meteoritics 29: 757–779, 1994.

15. See, for example, D. Kella, P.J. Johnson, H.B. Pedersen, L. Vejby-Christensen, and L.H. Andersen,“The Source of Green Light Emission Determined from a Heavy-Ion Storage Ring Experiment,” Science 276: 1530–1533, 1997; and E.S. Hwang, R.A. Bergman, R.A. Copeland, and T.G. Slanger,“Temperature Dependence of the Collisional Removal of O 2 (b 1 ? g + , ? = 1 and 2) at 110–260 K, and Atmospheric Applications,” Journal of Chemical Physics 110: 18–24, 1999.

Within the Office of Space Science of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) special importance is attached to exploration of the planet Mars, because it is the most like Earth of the planets in the solar system and the place where the first detection of extraterrestrial life seems most likely to be made. The failures in 1999 of two NASA missions—Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander—caused the space agency's program of Mars exploration to be systematically rethought, both technologically and scientifically. A new Mars Exploration Program plan (summarized in Appendix A) was announced in October 2000. The Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX), a standing committee of the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council, was asked to examine the scientific content of this new program. This goals of this report are the following:

-Review the state of knowledge of the planet Mars, with special emphasis on findings of the most recent Mars missions and related research activities;

-Review the most important Mars research opportunities in the immediate future;

-Review scientific priorities for the exploration of Mars identified by COMPLEX (and other scientific advisory groups) and their motivation, and consider the degree to which recent discoveries suggest a reordering of priorities; and

-Assess the congruence between NASA's evolving Mars Exploration Program plan and these recommended priorities, and suggest any adjustments that might be warranted.

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mars research report

Mars Desert Research Station

Day: October 23, 2023

Astronomy report – october 23rd.

astronomy-report]

Name: Jason Trump

Date: Oct 23rd, 2023

MUSK OBSERVATORY Sky Conditions: Partly cloudy Wind Conditions: Medium Observation Start Time: 12:30pm Observation End Time: 2:30pm Summary: Crew visual observations which identified a large prominence near 7 o’clock. Solar imaging followed. Objects Viewed: Sun Images Submitted With This Report: Sun 231023 Prominence Problems Encountered: Camera was left attached to telescope at start of mission. Confusion using Sharp Cap program because software update has caused user interface to differ from Quick Guide.

Crew Photos – October 23rd

mars research report

Journalist Report – October 23rd

Crew 284 has arrived at the MDRS as the 5th cohort of Spaceward Bound Utah: a science, sim, and education mission. We are a group of educators here to experience the Mars sim and explore avenues for bringing the science and sim experience back to our various learning environments: formal classrooms, science centers, education organizations, and more.

Our first day at the MDRS was not in sim, and instead focused on establishing protocols, crew rapport, and familiarization with the local region. Crew 284 completed the following activities:

– Completed facility training, including instruction on maintaining the HAB systems, science area, green HAB, and rover operations. – Carried out a field exploration hike to learn more about the geology of the region around the MDRS. – Utilized the Musk Observatory to observe current sun conditions. – Visited the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur quarry to continue learning about the geologic conditions of the region.

Tomorrow we will enter Sim.

Supplemental Operations Report – October 22nd

Name of person filing report: Sergii Iakymov Reason for Report: Routine Non-Nominal Systems: Ham radio has functional issues (it is transmitting a signal without any indications). It had been sent for repairs.

Power system: Solar: Nominal. SOC Last 24 hours: Max 100%; Min 64 %; Avg 80.8%. VDC Last 24 hours: Max 58.30V; Min 46.29V; Avg 51.09V. Generator run time: 3846.5 hours.

Propane Readings: Station Tank: 72% Director Tank: 49% Intern Tank: 69% Generator Tank: 74%

Water: Hab Static Tank – 530 gallons GreenHab – 100 gallons Outpost tank – 450 gallons Science Dome – 0 gallons Hab Toilet Tank emptied: Yes

Rovers: Sojourner rover used: Yes. Hours: 195.4 Beginning Charge: 100 % Ending Charge: 100 % Currently Charging: Yes Notes on Rovers: New battery cables for Spirit received. New parts are scheduled to be installed during crew 284 rotation.

ATV: ATV’s Used: None. Nothing to report.

Cars: Hab Car used and why, where: To Hanksville for supplies. Need to be serviced. Crew Car used and why, where: To Hanksville for supplies. General notes and comments: Crew car new registration received, awaiting renewed insurance ID.

Summary of Internet: Nominal.

EVA suits and radios: Suits: All nominal Comms: All nominal

Campus wide inspection, if action taken, what and why: Nothing to report. Summary of Hab Operations: Toilet tank cleaned and level sensors are functioning again. Remote temperature sensors for smart home systems are installed on the lower and upper deck. Ham radio has been taken for the repairs by Hope Lea and her father. Summary of GreenHab Operations: Soil has been rehydrated. Interior reorganized by crew 283. Summary of SciDome Operations: All nominal Summary of Observatories Operations: All nominal. Summary of RAM Operations: All nominal. Remote temperature sensors for smart home systems have been installed. Summary of Outpost Operations: The Director’s trailer heater heater fixed (the control board replaced) and current work is nominal. A rat has been caught in the Intern trailer. Summary of Health and Safety Issues: Nothing to report.

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Mars: The Exploration of the Red Planet Research Paper

Introduction.

Mars, the fourth planet in order of increasing distance from the sun and the first beyond the earth’s orbit. Under favorable conditions, it appears in the night sky as a yellowish red object (hence the name “red planet”) of the first magnitude. Mars has long fascinated us because of its many similarities to the earth and because of the possibility that life might exist there. The flyby of the crewless spacecraft Mariner 4 past the planet in 1965 started an era of intense exploration that still continues. Following several crewless flybys and orbiters launched by the United States (Mariners 4, 6, 7, and 9) and by the Soviet Union (Mars 3, 4, 5, and 6), the first successful soft landing of a spacecraft on another planet was achieved on July 20, 1976, when the U.S. spacecraft Viking 1 landed on the surface of Mars. Since then, Mars has been visited by several unpiloted craft, including the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft in 1997 and the Mars Global Surveyor from 1997 to 2006. (Squyres, 12) When images from these two probes were compared, scientists began to suspect that water had once flowed at several locations. Since 2004, NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s) Mars Exploration Rovers twin robot-geologists Spirit and Opportunity have explored the harsh Martian environment in search of water. The Phoenix Mars Lander, which safely reached the planet’s the North Pole in 2008, will analyze the icy soil for evidence of past microbial life. Mars is now perceived as a planet of spectacularly diverse topography with huge volcanoes, deep canyons, dry riverbeds, and extensive sand seas. While evidence of life there continues to be elusive, Mars remains interesting for geologic, chemical, and meteorological comparisons with the earth (Paolo, p.89).

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Telescopic Observations

Following the first telescopic observations of Mars by Galileo in 1610, the planet has been observed continually, with changes in its appearance noted and mapped. Mars is too distant for any surface relief to be discerned through the telescope. All that is seen are bright and dark markings, which may be in the atmosphere or on the surface. Most surface markings are in the equatorial regions, where various dark features contrast with the light areas or “deserts.” The shape and size of most markings change both seasonally and, slowly, over many years. Despite the many changes, the most prominent features are recognizable even on the earliest maps. The markings show poor correlation with topographic features revealed by spacecraft observations. Most are thought to result from thin deposits of windblown debris whose distribution changes with time. Bright polar caps are clearly visible through the telescope, and the larger size of the northern polar cap long has been recognized.

Most of the changes in appearance through the telescope are due to atmospheric effects of various kinds. Large arrays of white clouds commonly form in the middle latitudes and may persist for weeks. Those around the volcanic centers of Tharsis and Elysium most likely form when the air cools as it rises over the high volcanic regions. Other white clouds probably are caused by the daily recycling of water between the soil and the lower atmosphere. Frontal clouds and standing-wave clouds, seen clearly in spacecraft pictures, are probably not visible from the earth. During the fall thick clouds gather in the high latitudes to form polar hoods, which mask the growth of the polar caps. Brightening at the poles in this season is probably the result of both these clouds and the cap itself. Brightening in low areas such as Hellas and Argyre may also result from a combination of surface frost and clouds.

Whereas white clouds generally are brightest when observed in blue light, yellow clouds are brightest in yellow and orange. Yellow clouds occur mostly in the mid-southern latitudes at midsummer when large lateral and vertical temperature gradients cause extreme turbulence, which lifts large amounts of dust into the atmosphere. Activity generally starts in the region 320° W to 30° W and 30° S to 60° S and in most years spreads widely, so that ultimately the whole planet is engulfed in a gigantic dust storm. After the midsummer turbulence declines, dust slowly settles out of the atmosphere and the surface markings reappear. Global dust storms of this type were observed close up in 1971 by the Mariner 9 flyby space probe and in 1977 by the Viking orbiters (Squyres, p. 32).

No other aspect of Mars has aroused such widespread interest and controversy as the so-called canals. The controversy started in 1877 with the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli’s publication of a map of Mars that showed many dark lines on the surface. These he called Canali, the Italian word for both “canal” and “channel.” In the ensuing decades, Mars observers were divided between those who claimed the canals existed and those who claimed they did not. The strongest proponent of the canals was the American astronomer Percival Lowell, who produced ever more intricate maps of linear markings based on observations at the observatory he founded in Flagstaff, Ariz. In a book published in 1908, he aroused considerable popular attention by suggesting that the markings were irrigation canals built by an advanced civilization. As better telescopes were built and instrumental measurements failed to confirm their existence, belief in the canals declined (Furniss, p. 68). The various space probes that have since visited Mars found no evidence for most of the lines on the early maps, with the result that most are now regarded as optical illusions.

Spacecraft Explorations

Most current knowledge of Mars is derived from space-probe observations, initially from the Mariner 9 and Viking missions. In 1965 the U.S. Mariner 4 flyby space probe returned the first close-up pictures of the planet, followed in 1969 by two additional flyby missions, Mariners 6 and 7. All three probes flew over the parts of the planet that most resemble the moon and presented a rather deceptive view of the planet as a moonlike body. The diverse geologic character of the Martian surface was not fully recognized until 1971. During that year Mariner 9 and two Soviet spacecraft, Mars 2 and 3, were placed in orbit around Mars. The Soviet spacecraft was short-lived, and their accompanying Landers failed to return useful data from the surface, but Mariner 9 continued to operate for a year, returning more than 7,000 pictures of the planet. (Paolo, 45) Additional photographs were obtained in 1974 by the Soviet vehicles Mars 4, 5, and 6. In 1976 two Viking spacecraft were placed in orbit around Mars, and two additional spacecraft landed on the surface. The Viking 2 and 1 orbiters continued to function, respectively, until 1978 and 1980, by which time they had taken over 50,000 pictures of the planet and returned a wealth of other data. Contact with the Viking 2 and 1 Landers was lost, respectively, in 1980 and 1982 (Squyres, p. 57).

After a 17-year hiatus in Mars exploration, the United States launched Mars Observer in 1992. Mission objectives were to study geology, geophysics, and climate of the red planet, but it ended in disappointment when contact was lost with the craft just before it entered Martian orbit. In 1996 Mars Pathfinder was launched to demonstrate that an unpiloted spacecraft could deliver and deploy a robotic rover. Not only was the mission a success, but also Pathfinder and its rover, Sojourner, returned unprecedented amounts of information including images, soil analyses, and wind measurements before their final data transmission in September 1997. The next two missions to Mars failed: Climate Orbiter burned up on entering Mars’s atmosphere in September 1999; and three months later Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 were lost on arrival.

These disappointments were followed by a spate of successes, beginning in 1997 when Mars Global Surveyor slipped into Martian orbit. For nine years the probe mapped the red planet returning dramatic evidence of hillside water flows before succumbing to battery failure in 2006. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft, launched in 2001, has captured more than 130,000 images and continues to transmit information about Martian geology, climate, and mineralogy. NASA joined with the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency for the Mars Express mission in 2003 (Paolo, p. 23). Despite losing Beagle 2, its land rover, Mars Express has provided information about various surface features, including buried impact craters, evidence of glacial activity, and the presence of methane gas. The pursuit of geological clues to the possibility of life on Mars continued with NASA’s land rovers Spirit and Opportunity, twin robotic vehicles that rolled off their airbag-encased Landers on opposite sides of Mars in 2004 (Furniss, p. 102). Sporting names selected from more than 10,000 entries in a student essay contest, the two solar-powered rovers have outlived their intended three-month mission and continue to transmit high-resolution, full-color images of Martian terrain, soil surfaces, and rocks. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005, currently orbits high above the red planet, using a sounding device to search for subsurface water.

In May 2008 the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter relayed photographs of the safe descent of the Phoenix Mars Lander as it parachuted onto the planet’s frozen North Pole. Daily instructions were sent from the earthbound control center, directing the Lander to collect soil samples from the icy surface. Phoenix used its robotic arm to deliver soil and ice samples to its onboard experiment platforms. The samples are to be analyzed in hopes of determining whether the location could have supported microbial life during the planet’s past.

General Physiography

Mars is markedly asymmetrical in the distribution of its surface features. Much of the Southern Hemisphere is heavily cratered like the lunar highlands and includes two large impact basins, Hellas and Argyre. In contrast, much of the Northern Hemisphere is covered with sparsely cratered plains. The planet has two major volcanic regions, the Tharsis region centered at 110° W on the equator and the Elysium region centered at 25° N, 212° W. Extending eastward from Tharsis are several large canyons that together makeup Valles Marineris, while east and north of the canyons are several huge dry riverbeds. The poles are distinctly different from the rest of the planet and appear to have thick deposits of layered sedimentary rocks exposed at the surface. The North Pole is also surrounded by extensive sand dunes.

Densely Cratered Terrain

This terrain is characterized by many large, relatively shallow craters; smooth intercrater plains; and a relatively small number of smaller craters (those less than 30 miles, or 50 km, in diameter). The terrain probably dates from very early in the planet’s history, possibly from 4 billion years ago, when the impact rate was higher than at present. The most extensive cratered areas are in the Southern Hemisphere. Fresh Martian craters differ markedly in appearance from those on the moon and Mercury. Most lunar craters are surrounded by disordered rubble-like ejecta that appears to have been deposited from ballistic trajectories. In contrast, the Martian craters are surrounded by ejecta that appears to have flowed along the ground. The fluid properties of the ejecta have been attributed to the presence in the Martian surface of large amounts of ground ice, which melts on impact and is incorporated into the ejecta. Crater examination by the Opportunity probe has revealed evidence of a watery and possibly habitable past on Mars.

Sparsely Cratered Plains

Plains cover much of the Northern Hemisphere and also occur within large impact basins such as Hellas and Argyre in the south. They are distinguished from the densely cratered terrain by the almost total absence of impact craters larger than 30 miles (50 km) in diameter. The plains have a different appearance in different areas. Around the large volcanoes in Tharsis and Elysium, the plains appear to be a thick succession of lava flows. In other areas, such as Chryse Planitia, where the Viking 1 spacecraft landed, the plains resemble those of the lunar maria, being relatively featureless except for impact craters and low winding ridges. These plains are probably also volcanic. The plains in the high northern latitudes have a variety of poorly understood features. Extensive areas have a polygonal fracture pattern, with individual polygons averaging 6 miles (10 km) across. In other areas are parallel linear markings, low escarpments, and intricate patterns of light and dark. Many of the unique characteristics of the northern plains have been attributed to repeated deposition and removal by the wind of layers of ice-rich debris. The number of impact craters on most of the plains, while considerably smaller than on the densely cratered terrain, is still sufficiently large to indicate an old age, probably in the range of 1 to 4 billion years. The only possible exceptions are the plains around the large volcanoes, which appear younger.

Volcanic and Tectonic Features

The large volcanoes of Tharsis are among the most spectacular features of the planet. The largest, Olympus Mons, is 15.5 miles (25 km) high and more than 340 miles (550 km) across at its base. Three other volcanoes in Tharsis reach approximately the same height. Each is topped by a central caldera, or crater, 50 to 75 miles (80 to 120 km) across, and on the flanks are numerous lava channels, lava tubes, flow fronts, and other features indicative of very fluid lava. Analysis of photographs transmitted by Odyssey in 2007 of the massive Arsia Mons volcano reveals seven black spots that scientists suspect are caves the size of football fields. If so, they would shield their contents from surface radiation and could potentially shelter life (Squyres, p. 78).

The style of volcanism on Mars is similar to that in Hawaii, except that the Martian features are ten times larger. The volcanoes are relatively young and may still be active. Tharsis is also the center of a set of fractures that occur over almost an entire hemisphere of the planet. They appear to have formed as a result of the loading of the crust by the Tharsis bulge.

Volcanoes also occur elsewhere on Mars, but they tend to be older and smaller than those in Tharsis. In 2007 the Spirit rover rolled onto evidence of an ancient volcanic explosion near its landing site dubbed “Home Plate” in Gusev Crater. Analysis revealed high chlorine content in the 2-meter- (6-foot) thick plateau of bedrock, suggesting that fluid basalt lava had come in contact with brine, indicating that water had been involved (Paolo, p. 59).

To the east of Tharsis and aligned along with the radial fractures are several enormous canyons. They stretch from the summit of the Tharsis bulge eastward for approximately 3,000 miles (5,000 km). Individual canyons are up to 125 miles (200 km) across and 1 to 4 miles (2 to 7 km) deep. The walls are steep and in many sections deeply gullied. In some parts, the walls have collapsed to form gigantic landslides several tens of miles across that have traveled more than 60 miles (100 km) along the canyon floor. The canyons are believed to have formed mainly by down faulting, followed by slumping and gullying of the walls (Furniss, p. 62).

Channels pose some of the more puzzling problems of Martian geology. Much of the densely cratered terrain is dissected by small channels that form drainage networks much like terrestrial river valleys. Liquid water, however,

  • Furniss, Tim. The History of Space Exploration: And Its Future… Mercury Books London: 2005
  • Paolo, Ulivi & Harland, David. Robotic Exploration of the Solar System. Springer Praxis Books: 2008
  • Squyres, Steve. Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet Hyperion; Reprint edition: 2007

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IMAGES

  1. Mars Report: August 2018

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  2. Mars Report: May 2018

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  3. Mars Sample Return overview infographic (ESA)

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  4. Mars Sample Return, an international project…

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  5. NASA Mars Report: August 20, 2018

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  6. (PDF) NASA Mars Climate Orbiter Project Failure (1999) REPORT

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VIDEO

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  2. #MarsSampleReturn: Exciting New Region Is Target for Next Samples (Mars Report)

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  4. Ingenuity Helicopter Inspires Future Flights on Mars (Mars Report

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  6. NASA’s Curiosity Rover Turns 10: Here’s What It’s Learned (Mars News Report Aug. 5, 2022)

COMMENTS

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  7. Mars News -- ScienceDaily

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  8. Geophysical evidence for an enriched molten silicate layer above Mars's

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  9. Life on Mars? Curiosity data shows signs of rivers, researchers say

    New research from a team of scientists at Penn State who analyzed Curiosity rover data found that Mars could once have been teeming with flowing water: the bedrock of life. In a study published in ...

  10. Frontiers

    The interest towards Mars research and exploration has gained significant momentum in the past three decades owing to the advances in computing, hardware, remote sensors, public data availability, and outreach.

  11. Summary

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  12. Mars Report: NASA's Explorers on Mars

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  13. News

    NASA's real-time portal for Mars exploration, featuring the latest news, images, and discoveries from the Red Planet.

  14. Independent Review Indicates NASA Prepared for Mars Sample Return

    Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. NASA released an independent review report Tuesday indicating the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study. The agency established the MSR Independent Review Board (IRB) to evaluate its early concepts for a groundbreaking ...

  15. Initial results from the InSight mission on Mars

    NASA's InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission landed in Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018. It aims to determine the interior ...

  16. Mars, the red planet: Facts and information

    With a radius of 2,106 miles, Mars is the seventh largest planet in our solar system and about half the diameter of Earth. Its surface gravity is 37.5 percent of Earth's. Recent NASA exploratory ...

  17. NASA Mars Exploration

    The Mars Exploration Program studies Mars as a planetary system in order to understand the formation and early evolution of Mars as a planet, the history of geological processes that have shaped Mars through time, the potential for Mars to have hosted life, and the future exploration of Mars by humans. The strategy has evolved as we have ...

  18. Mars Colonization: Beyond Getting There

    Beyond an active target for space exploration, colonization of Mars has become a popular topic nowadays, fuelled by a potentially naive and somewhat questionable belief that this planet could at some point in time be terraformed to sustain human life. 1 Indeed, the Moon, while very close, is small, barren and devoid of atmosphere.

  19. Mars Sample Return

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  20. Advances in Mars Research and Exploration

    The pursuit of finding habitable conditions or life outside our planet has always been fascinating. In terms of habitability, Mars is the most Earth‐like planet within our solar system as it displays the highest Earth similarity index of 0.7 based on physical determinants such as radius, mass, and temperature and the relative planetary habitability index of 0.6 based on physicochemical ...

  21. Mars Facts

    MARS; Average Distance from Sun: 93 million miles: 142 million miles: Average Speed in Orbiting Sun: 18.5 miles per second: 14.5 miles per second: Diameter: 7,926 miles: 4,220 miles: Tilt of Axis: 23.5 degrees: 25 degrees: Length of Year: 365.25 Days: 687 Earth Days: Length of Day: 23 hours 56 minutes: 24 hours 37 minutes: Gravity: 2.66 times ...

  22. Mars Research

    Mars Research. Since our first close-up picture of Mars in 1965, spacecraft voyages to the Red Planet have revealed a world strangely familiar, yet different enough to challenge our perceptions of what makes a planet work. ... The Center for Planetary Science is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to conducting scientific research ...

  23. (PDF) Water on Mars

    On Mars, water is in icy form, and there are superficial deposits on the poles; however, their access is restricted because of the low temperatures (-153 °C) and the high requirements of extra ...

  24. 1. Introduction

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    Mars has long been the ultimate goal for human space exploration. This paper will compile research objectives relevant to a Martian presence in an attempt to create a coherent justification...

  26. October 23, 2023

    The Mars Desert Research Station in the Utah desert was established by the Mars Society in 2001 to better educate researchers, students and the general public about how humans can survive on the Red Planet. It is the second Mars analogue habitat after the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station was established in 2000.. Over 200 crews of six-person teams have lived in 1-2 week field visits at ...

  27. Mars: The Exploration of the Red Planet Research Paper

    We will write a custom Research Paper on Mars: The Exploration of the Red Planet specifically for you for only 9.35/page. 808 certified writers online. Learn More. Telescopic Observations. Following the first telescopic observations of Mars by Galileo in 1610, the planet has been observed continually, with changes in its appearance noted and ...

  28. Mars Research Review Board

    The Mars Research Review Board (MRRB) guides our work with humans and animals, ensuring that it strictly adheres to our policies on research involving human participants and animals. The Mars Research Review Board is made up of senior leaders at Mars: Vice President, Technology. Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs.

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