Mars missions educate, excite those hoping for future manned-missions

ST. LOUIS – The Ingenuity helicopter’s first flight on Mars has been delayed while NASA works on an issue with its flight control software. It’s the latest in a series of exciting Mars missions.

NASA has successfully landed five rovers on Mars in the past two decades, each with a more demanding mission.

“Be it science fiction, all the books and movies out there, many people dream of going to Mars,” said Will Snyder, manager of the McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center. “Until this can become a reality, these rovers, these orbiters, that’s how we’ll learn about them.”

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover has a drill bit to collect rock and soil samples and will keep them in sealed tubes so they can be picked up by a future mission.

“It’s not just this robot explorer that does some work and then gets done,” Snyder said. “It is the first phase of a longer mission to package rock and core samples from Mars that can be shipped back to Earth in the future so that we can do a lot more research than we can with the limited equipment we can to send. “

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which goes to Mars with endurance, will test powered flight on another world for the first time.

“If we can fly, we can cover more ground on Mars than with a rover. And it will really lay the foundation for future missions, even for places like Titan, a moon around Saturn. “

But flying a drone on Mars sounds easier than it is.

“Compared to our planet, the Martian atmosphere is only about 1% as thick as ours. Without this blanket of air, it’s very difficult to get buoyancy, ”said Snyder.

The Perseverance rover will also test technologies to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which contains 96% carbon dioxide. The ultimate goal is to use the natural resources of Mars to aid human explorers.

If you want to learn more about Mars, you don’t have to go into space. The Mission Mars exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center has two galleries full of information and a cutting edge slice of Mars. Make reservations for a visit at slsc.org.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its blades and allowed them to spin freely on April 7, 2021, the 47th Mars day or sol of the mission. This image was captured by the Mastcam Z-Imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover on the following sol on April 8, 2021. (Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU)

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