Three more missions to Mars planned

Mumbai : After the latest mission takes off Saturday, NASA is planning to send three more missions to Mars, with the next one scheduled in 2013, according to a top scientist.

The next mission will be named Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), Amitabha Ghosh, of the ensuing mission’s Landing Site Characterisation Team, for Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) said in a statement.

It would be followed up with an Extromars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2017, and possibly, a Mars Sample Return, sometime between 2017-2027.

The latest mission starts Saturday when a nuclear-powered Rover will start on a 9-month celestial journey to Mars to investigate whether it has a habitable environment.

The $2.50 billion MSL will be launched aboard an unmanned United Space Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, around 8 p.m. (IST), from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, near Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, Ghosh said.

In the past 15 years, there were seven other missions to the red planet, starting with Mars Pathfinder, 1997, when observations suggested that early Mars was more Earth like with liquid water and thicker atmosphere.

Mars Global Surveyor (1996-2006) found ancient deltas, channels of iron oxide at the landing site, carried out a global map of the planet’s topography, which showed evidence that Mars once had a magnetic field that shielded its surface from cosmic rays and slowed the loss of volatiles.

Then followed the Mars Odyssey (2001 till date) which showed evidence of frozen water in the top layers of soil at the north and south poles and identified sites for subsequent missions.

Later, MER (Spirit) and MER (Opportunity) were launched which discovered goethite, hydrated sulfate salts, a carbonate outcrop and evidence of hot springs or steam vents, water rich clay minerals, and presence of a sulfur-rich material indicated acidic watery environment.

In 2005 till date, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter returned with a phenomenal amount of data, found extensive deposits of water-related minerals, thick deposits of carbon dioxide ice buried in the south polar cap.

The 2007-2008 Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed deposits of water ice detected by a previous mission, Mars Odyssey, observed falling snow and found percholate, a compound that lowers freezing point of water.

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