For decades, space exploration has captivated and excited the world, as we have looked to the vastness of outer space for discoveries and possibilities. Of all the celestial bodies in our solar system, none inspires more fascination than Mars, the ‘Red Planet’. Scientists have long been exploring the secrets of Mars and are constantly uncovering new and interesting facts about this mysterious world. In addition to continuous research and discoveries, there is also mounting hope that Mars may harbor some form of life, making the secrets of the Red Planet far more captivating.

The Basics of Mars: A Quick Primer

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and orbits the sun in an average of 687 Earth days. Its orbit is much different than Earths, and its days and nights vary greatly in length and temperature. The Red Planet is also much smaller than Earth and has a much lower gravity.

The surface of Mars is mostly covered with red-hued iron oxide dust and rocks, which is why it looks red in our night sky. Mars is a cold desert world with temperatures that can drop below -100°C in the polar regions and up to 30°C near the equator. Some of the more noticeable features include huge volcanoes, Vallis Marineris (the longest canyon in the solar system), and many more.

Exploring Mars: Our Search for Life

The exploration of Mars has been a big part of human space exploration. Since the late 1960s, countless robotic probes have been sent to Mars in search of answers to one simple question: could Mars harbor some form of life?

The most notable missions have been the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs), which landed on Martian soil in 2004 on a quest to search for signs of life. To date, they have found clear evidence of liquid flowing water on the surface in the distant past, possible underground liquid water, and organic molecules in the martian soil, all suggesting that Mars could have once been a habitable environment for life.

The Mars 2020 mission will further this research. This new spacecraft will carry an instrument suite that can determine possible biosignatures with greater precision than ever before. These instruments will investigate soil and dust samples for complex organic molecules and other biomarkers that may have arisen due to living organisms.

Prospects for Human Exploration

In addition to unmanned exploration, NASA and other space agencies are preparing for future missions that will send human astronauts to explore Mars. These missions are expected to operations such as soil sampling, outfitting habitats, installing communications relay infrastructure, and more.

Human exploration has many significant risks. Mars’s atmosphere is very thin and comprised mostly of carbon dioxide, creating a radiation-filled environment hostile to life. Astronauts on Mars will also be exposed to much greater levels of radiation than they would on Earth, and they will need to find ways to protect and shield themselves from this radiation.

At present, governments across the world are working on engineering solutions to explore and colonize the Red Planet. NASA is also working a phased approach for a human mission to Mars, with the aim of one day having a sustained human presence on the Red Planet.

Living on Mars

Living on Mars would prove to be a great challenge. Humans would have to adjust to the Martian environment, which is significantly different from Earth. This would include adapting to the extreme temperatures, low air pressure, lack of oxygen, and challenging gravity.

Robotics would be a major factor in colonizing Mars, helping to build habitats, research the environment and conduct experiments, gather resources, and more. Scientists have also begun researching food production methods for extended human missions on Mars, such as growing crops in artificial soils enriched with organic and inorganic nutrients.

The secrets of the Red Planet are constantly being uncovered and the possibilities of one day sending humans to the Martian surface are becoming increasingly plausible. While it is difficult to know exactly what we will discover, the search for life on Mars has been a cause of excitement and wonder for many years and is now within our reach. As future missions uncover more and more facts about Mars, we can only hope that one day we will be living on the Red Planet.