Mars is one of the planets in this solar system that has drawn the interest of scientific research for many years. Current research emphasizes searching for evidence of water in this planet, exploring biomarker gases in the planet’s environment, and any work toward collecting evidence of chemical biological signatures on the planet’s rocks and in the soil (National geographic, 2014). A mission similar to mine that explored the area previously is NASA’s spacecraft Viking 1 and Viking 2 landed in 1976 to study the surface of Mars. They had many cameras that relayed thousands of pictures and images about the rocks and the changing seasons on Mars. This mission is specifically designed with the aim of exploring more about the existence of life on planet Mars. Using the information from the Viking 2, we propose to design a new probe for further study of the Mars’ surface and atmosphere and specifically any evidence of water and microorganisms. The spacecraft will contain similar instruments to those mounted on Vikings 1 and 2, but with the addition of atmospheric and weather measuring instruments to obtain more elaborate data on the atmosphere on Mars.
The spacecraft of this mission is designed to take the Earth’s orbit before proceeding to orbit around Mars (Mars, N.d.). The targeted landing place of this spacecraft is a point where there are any visible signs of water, especially on the southern arctic of planet Mars. One sign of water in Mars is the presence of Methane. According to Spaceflight (n.d.), methane that has been discovered in mars may have originated from reactions involving iron oxide, carbon dioxide, and water which produced a large amount of the gas. This shows that the planet has water.
Fig 1: How methane is produced in presence of water (Spaceflight, n.d.).
After revolving around planet Mars for a while and obtaining data of area that has possible evidence of water, the spacecraft will land at this place. A meteorite analyzed by NASA indicates that there are some signs of water in the planet. The figure below shows the image of a scanning microscope that indicates the presence of water tunnels in Mars. The purpose of this is to guide future missions to these promising locations.
Fig 2: Scanning Microscope image showing a thin section of a meteorite from Mars (NASA, 2014).
The spacecraft will mainly try to collect evidence of life presence by looking for any signs of bacteria on this planet. Apart from trying to establish the existence of life, the spacecraft will also aim at obtaining any evidence of life that existed before the time of exploration. Tiny fossils that act as evidence of the existence of life at one point in life will pass under the camera lenses’ view of the spacecraft.
The missions conducted by various spacecrafts that have been sent to Mars provide a lot of scientific information about the planet. The first mission sent to Mars, Mariner 4 shows that Mars is an arid area with no signs of oceans, rivers or life. The result from this mission also shows that the planet lacks geological activity. Plate tectonics, as well as weathering of rocks has not taken place for the last four billion years. Craters that cover the surface of the Mars are a proof of a lack of recent geological activity. The planet lacks global magnetic field, which protects planets from damaging cosmic rays (NASA, 2014).
The atmospheric study of the planet shows that the atmospheric pressure of Mars stands at 0.6 Kpa as compared to the 101.3 Kpa of earth. The low atmospheric pressure, therefore, rules out the possibility of the availability of liquid water on the surface of this planet. The desert like conditions here, as well as the constant exposure to cosmic rays may make the existence of life under present conditions impractical, but the mission is still valuable because it will give scientists information about the make-up of similar planets. With the information at hand currently, Mars would be very difficult to terraform especially due to the lack of accessible water. However, advanced studies by Viking Imager show that there is evidence of the existence of river valleys in most parts of this planet (Spaceflight, 2014).
Observations made by the Phoenix Lander in 2008 show that the oxidants on Mars vary with latitude. The observation here explains where Viking two which landed in a bit southern part saw a few oxidants than Viking 1 which landed more to the northern part of the Mars. From the data of this mission by Phoenix, it is evident that the Martian soil contains perchlorate that makes the planet appear not to be as life –friendly as early scientists once fantasized it might be. The planet Mars also has some bound water and carbon dioxide, which again brings some hopes to the possibility of life on this planet.
The Planet Mars also has traces of methane gas suggesting that there must be an active process going on in the planet to sustain the levels of methane in its atmosphere (Spaceflight, 2014). The Martian asteroids also confirm the presence of methane gas as they have traces, about 0.8% of methane content. The methane in these meteorites suggests that there must be organic compounds in the meteorites that are transformed to methane through the ultraviolet radiation. Existence of microorganism like methanogens is thus a chance though there is no proven source on this (NASA, 2014). The mission would need to explore this concept further and obtain more information about the possible existence of life on Mars.
Spacecraft and Instrument Package
The spacecraft for this mission is expected to be launched aboard an Atlas Y 935 rocket from Cape Canaveral on the tenth day of January, 2015, and it is estimated to take eight months to reach Mars in August of 2015. The spacecraft is required to orbit Mars 24 times, gliding into orbit five thousand kilometers (3,100 miles) above the top clouds of the planet for approximately six months before landing on the planet’s surface. Spinning of the spacecraft will be necessary at the launch as this will make the spacecraft easy to control and also increase its stability. Immediately after the launch of the spacecraft and just before the positioning of its solar arrays, rocket motors will be used to spin it while it is still attached to the second stage rocket booster. Spinning while in orbit at Mars will make it include the fields of view of its instruments in space at every rotation. The spacecraft is designed to make three rotations per minute, enabling it to sweep the field of view across mars about four hundred times for the two hours it spends flying from one pole to the other (Mars express, 2014).
The spacecraft will carry along several instruments that will collect data and essential information on the surface of Mars in addition to the obiter, rovers will also be used. The first pack of instruments is the Microscopic Electrochemistry as well as Conductivity analyzer (MECA).
Fig 3: MECA instrument (NASA, 2014c)
The MECA instrument is going to establish the characteristics of the soil on the planet Mars and determine if there is any water content in it to support life. As one of the goals for the mission is to discover information about how water exists on Mars and whether it will ever be able to be of use to humans. The wet chemistry lab will dissolve small samples of soil into water in order to determine its pH. It is important to know the pH to help solve the problem of human access to Mar’s water. Determination of mineralogical content of the soil such as abundance of cations, such as sodium and magnesium, and the presence of anions, such as bromide, chloride and sulfate, will also take place through this process. The wet chemistry lab will also investigate the redox and conductivity potential of the Martial soil.
The microscope that is another component of MECA will be used to examine the grains of the soil and hence establish their mineral content as well as their origin. The needles, another part of the MECA will be sticking into the Martial soil to determine its ice and water content as well as the ability of both water vapor and heat to penetrate through this soil (Phoenix mars mission, 2014).
The next instrument in this spacecraft will be the Robotic Arm Camera (RAC), which will be attached by a robotic arm. The camera will provide a close up colored photos and images of the whole surface of the planet within the vicinity of the spacecraft. The camera will also capture the images of soil and water in the prospective sample as well as the images of the Martial atmosphere to see if there are any signs of rain bearing clouds. Pictures of the surface of the planet will also be taken by the camera and relayed to the earth (Phoenix mars mission, 2014).
The next instrument to be used in this mission is the Surface Stereo Imager (SSI), which will provide high-resolution panoramic images of the planet’s arctic as recent studies show that water is stored in the poles (Phoenix mars mission, 2014). Through the use of advanced optical system, this instrument will survey any geological context at the landing site as well as make measurements of the atmospheric cloud and dust. Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) is another tool that will be used for this mission. Scientists will use this instrument in analyzing the planet’s soil and ice sample. Mars Descent Imager will be used to provide geographic information such as landforms around the area of landing. Lastly, metrological station (MET) will also be incorporated among the instruments. MET will help in recording daily atmospheric conditions of Mars using pressure sensors, light detection and ranging, and temperature sensors instruments. These instruments will allow MET relay important information on the polar atmospheric conditions and the cycle of water from gas to solid in the arctic region of Mars (Phoenix mars mission, 2014).
There has been a great debate about life on Mars. Research indicates that there is an evidence of water in Mars which indicates that there is a sign of presence of life or possibility of Mars being able to support life. However, there are some other signs that indicate difficulties of life existence on Mars. For instance, the atmospheric pressure of Mars is low; hence the presence of liquid water is highly impossible. Therefore, scientific methods need to be used to turn the gaseous water into liquid water. Desert conditions have also been identified in Mars. Furthermore, Phoenix mission discovered the presence of Martian soil that contains perchlorate that makes life difficult in Mars. Despite these suggestions of difficulties of life in Mars, the presence of water and carbon dioxide and water revives some hope of life on Mars.
This mission will target its landing on the southern arctic of planet Mars where there is a sign of water. There is a sign of methane in this are that indicates the presence of water. Relying on the evidence of water in Mars by Martian asteroids, Viking Imager and NASA’s Spacecrafts, the mission will land on mars with the hope of finding life-supporting evidence. The spacecraft that will orbit mars will look for various signs of life on mars. The things that will be of key focus include water, bacteria, methane and carbon dioxide. Rovers and orbiters containing a lot of instruments will be used in the mission. Microscopic Electrochemistry and Conductivity analyzer will be necessary for collecting information from the surface of Mars. Characteristics of soil will be analysed to establish whether there is water in the soil. Surface stereo imager will also show the amount of water stored in the planet.
There are certain challenges that will be faced in the mission. First, the mission that involves spacecraft instruments is risky because it may expose the participants to various hazards that may cause injuries. There may also be possibilities of failure in the spacecraft which may lead to injuries among participants. Since this is an exploration on the space, unforeseen factors may affect the mission. Even climatic factors in the atmosphere may hinder the mission. For instance, heavy fog and mist in space may prevent effective collection of information from Mars.
The intended mission to planet Mars is going to provide essential information concerning the possibility of existence of water in the planet and any possibility of existence of life, either in the past or at present, on the planet. The weather instruments mounted on MET will relay reliable information about the waters in this planet. The powerful cameras will give vivid information on the true nature of the planet. From the images, evidence of any form of life on this planet can be established. The soil samples analysis being done by MECA will provide the information of the minerals as well as the water availability in the Martial soil.
Mars Express (2014) http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Mars_Express/Mars_Express_instrume nts (May, 2014)
NASA. (2014a). http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/spacecraft/ (May, 2014).
NASA (2014b). http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-065 (June, 2014)
NASA (2014c). http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA10917 (June, 2014).
National Geographic (2014). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140402-astronaut-mars-trip-health-science/#close-modal (May, 2014).
Phoenix Mars Mission (2014). http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/science05.php (May, 2014).
Spaceflight 101 (n.d.). http://www.spaceflight101.com/mars-orbiter-mission.html (June, 2014