Mars Space Missions
Past and Current Missions
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
Launch: November 26, 2011
Landing: August 6, 2012
Objectives: Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), an ambitious new-generation rover, will investigate Mars for at least two years, an endurance record for Mars landers. The rover will determine whether Mars ever was, or could still be today, an environment able favourable for microbial life. MSL will pave the way for future missions that will bring back samples from Mars.
Launch: August 4, 2007
Landing: May 25, 2008
Objectives: The Phoenix Mars Lander was the first mission to explore the Arctic region of Mars at ground level. Phoenix landed near Mars's northern polar cap in an area known as Vastitas Borealis, where it continued to operate successfully for more than five months (far beyond its planned 90-day lifespan).
The Phoenix Mission marked the first time that Canada, as a nation, landed on the surface of Mars. Canada's contribution to Phoenix was a meteorological station recorded the daily weather at the landing site, which measured Mars' temperature and pressure, and probed clouds, fog and dust in Mars' lower atmosphere, and confirmed that it snows on Mars by detecting snowflakes falling in the atmosphere of Mars.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)
Launch: August 12, 2005
Reached Mars Orbit: March 10, 2006
Objectives: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter blasted off from Cape Canaveral in 2005 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time.
Spirit and Opportunity
Launch: June 10 and July 7, 2003
Landing: January 3 and 24, 2004
Objectives: NASA's two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, both landed on Mars successfully in early 2004. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Designed as a 3-month mission to travel about one kilometre, Spirit lasted over 6 years, drove over 7,7 kilometers and returned over 124,000 images before ending communications in 2010. Opportunity continues to conduct science from its landing site at Meridiani Planum, having driven 33,5 kilometers since landing on Mars.
Launch: June 2, 2003
Objectives: Mars Express, a European probe, reached the planet in December 2003. Its primary mission lasted one Martian year–that is, 687 Earth days–to gather data on the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind, after which time the European Space Agency decided to extend its mission. As of 2011, Mars Express is still generating captivating images of the surface of Mars, and serves as a communications relay between the Earth and NASA's Opportunity rover. Mars Express had on board a lander called Beagle 2; however, contact with Beagle was lost as it entered the Martian atmosphere.
Launch: April 17, 2001
Objectives: Mars Odyssey holds the record for longest-serving spacecraft destined for the Red Planet. Launched by NASA, the spacecraft orbits Mars to study the chemical and mineral composition of the planet's surface. Mars Odyssey monitors seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and produced the most detailed maps ever made of most of the planet.
Launch: July 3, 1998
Objectives: Nozomi was Canada's first involvement in a mission to another planet and marked the beginning of a new era for Canadian space exploration. There was a Canadian instrument aboard this Japanese satellite, launched on July 3, 1998: the Thermal Plasma Analyser (TPA), whose mission was to study the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind. The satellite had a difficult journey and a number of unforeseen occurrences; on December 10, 2003, Japanese officials announced that they had been unable to place Nozomi in orbit around Mars. Despite the cancellation of the mission, significant advances have been made thanks to the data that were gathered as the satellite made its way toward Mars. In addition, the TPA technology can also be used to study other planetary atmospheres, like that of Venus and Earth
Mars Global Surveyor (MGS)
Launch: November 7, 1996
Objectives: Launched by NASA, Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) is designed to map the Martian surface from space. The orbiter has been able to confirm the presence of a magnetosphere around Mars and still today is sending back valuable data that allow scientists to better define the composition of the Martian atmosphere.
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