by SpaceHike.comMore articles in SETI
On July 4, 1997, NASA's Pathfinder spacecraft landed on the surface of the planet Mars. It had taken Pathfinder seven months to make the journey from its homebase of the planet Earth.
Many robotic spacecraft have left planet Earth with a Mars destination schedule since 1996. There are many more spacecraft waiting for a chance to explore Mars, and there are as many, maybe more, in the process of being built for the same type mission. The first probes reaching the Red Planet left many questions for science to answer, i.e, was it ever warm, did it have water, and how did it evolve its atmosphere. The newer spacecraft will focus on the geology and climate of the planet to determine if life ever existed on this barren planet. Their next missions will help determine if the Red Planet can be explored by humans, and, if the planet may one day be suitable for colonization.
When Pathfinder landed on Mars, it was in the Ares Vallis, which is a flood plain of the northern hemisphere of Mars. It carried equipment and instruments to be used in testing and taking samples of the rocks and soil of the Ares Vallis area. Its partner was a six-wheeled robot called Sojourner Rover, who was the equivalent of a human astronaut.
In September 1997, the Global Surveyor reached Mars and spent 18 months in a slow-down process. Global Surveyor needed to slow down until it reached a low orbit of 350 km above the Mars surface. Once in this orbit, the cameras and spectrometer onboard were to map the planet's surface in detail, plus provide weather patterns and chemical make-up.
According to theory, the surface of Mars may be altered to provide suitable lodging for a human colony. NASA calls this terraforming. Firstly, Mars would need to be warmed by the artificial means of inducing a greenhouse effect. It is believed that this may be done by the unfreezing the gas carbon dioxide that is inside the rocks and polar ice caps of the planet. Of course, it would take many centuries before a suitable temperature was reached, which would allow the survival of plants on the Red Planet
For now, Mars does not have liquid water because of the cold temperatures. Its surface is bombarded with violent winds carrying the tiniest of dust particles, and there is no ozone. The ozone layer would be needed to protect life from the harmful ultraviolet radiation.
When the first Mars colonies are initiated, the colonizers will need to construct artificial buildings that provide an atmosphere suitable for breathing, but, at the same time, keeping out the harmful radiation. The Biosphere II project in Tucson, Arizona, has been testing the ability of humans to live in tight enclosures.
1. Couper, Heather and Nigel Henbest. Space Encyclopedia DK Publishing, Inc.: NY 1999
2. Editors. Secrets of the Universe. International Master Publishing: US. 1999