Almost 24 years ago, NASA landed the first exploratory rover on Mars. While the first rover mission was originally planned to last for seven days, little Sojourner lasted 83, investigating the Martian surface and reporting back diligently. With this extended mission, a new era of exploration was born, now spanning more than two decades. As the number of missions increased, so did the rovers in size, durability, and reliability. The longest lasting rover, Opportunity, roamed Mars for nearly 15 years! The five Mars Rovers: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance, have worked hard to learn everything they can about the Red Planet, and give insight to how Mars used to be.
Sojourner- The First Rover, Mars Pathfinder Mission
Photo of Sojourner and Pathfinder, courtesy of NASA
The Sojourner Rover was launched Dec. 4, 1996 and made the long, treacherous journey to Mars. It landed on the Red Planet July 4, 1997 with a mission to take pictures, use instruments to study Mars, and send back valuable data to scientists on Earth! Even being as small as a microwave, Sojourner’s mission discovered that Mars may have had a much wetter, warmer climate long, long ago.
Spirit and Opportunity- The Adventure Twins, Mars Exploration Rovers Mission
Photo of Spirit and Opportunity courtesy of NASA
Spirit and Opportunity were launched On June 10 and July 7, 2003. Their missions were the same: search for signs of water on Mars.
Both about the size of a golf cart, the twins landed on Mars Jan. 3 and Jan. 24, 2004, on opposite sides of the Red Planet. Although only planned to operate for 90 days, both Spirit and Opportunity lived well beyond this, until 2010 and 2018.
These two geologists worked tirelessly to find evidence that water was once present and plentiful on Mars. They looked at different types of rocks and soils, and the minerals within them. They also determined what forces shaped the land around them. Spirit found evidence of both past and present water cycles, and Opportunity found intact sedimentary rocks that suggested a large, salty body of water was once present there!
Curiosity- The Selfie Taking Rover, Mars Science Laboratory Mission
Photo of Curiosity courtesy of NASA
Curiosity launched on Nov. 26, 2011 with one major goal: determine whether Mars could have supported Earth-like life long ago. The car-sized rover landed on Aug 5, 2012 and began research.
With a full laboratory at its disposal, Curiosity was able to confirm within a year that its landing site, Gale Crater, was once an ancient lakebed full of water and therefore could have harbored life.
Now Curiosity is climbing a mountain located at the middle of Gale Crater to study its rock layers. This will help scientists figure out what changed in the environment that led Mars to become the dry, deserted place we know it to be today.
Perseverance- NASA’s Newest Rover, Mars 2020 Mission
Photo of Perseverance courtesy of NASA
The Perseverance Rover launched July 30, 2020 and landed in the Jezero Crater on Feb.18, 2021. This area may have once been an ancient river delta, so exploring the region could help tell us about Mars’ past.
Although Perseverance and Curiosity look alike, they have different tools and different mission goals. Perseverance is tasked with looking for ancient fossils of microbial life, as well as collecting samples of rock and soil to be returned to Earth by a future manned mission to the Red Planet.
This Mars mission is still young, so there is plenty of time for Perseverance to make plenty of amazing discoveries!
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