NASA is continuing to have an exciting summer of new projects rolling out. First, they reaffirmed their commitment to sending astronauts to Mars by the year 2035 in June. A little over a month later, they promised to determine once and for all that human beings are not alone in the universe.
And now, less than three weeks later, NASA announced that another Mars rover is in the works and will soon be joining Curiosity on the red planet in 2020. And if that weren’t enough to get you excited for space exploration, the Opportunity Mars rover launched back in 2004 just had its record tenth birthday on Mars. And it’s still going…
First, let’s talk about the record: Opportunity has now driven farther than any other wheeled off-planet vehicle. Designed for 90 days and one kilometer, Opportunity has, well, to put it bluntly, far exceeded that. According to IEEE Spectrum, as of last week, Opportunity has tallied up over 40 kilometers, and it’s still going.
It’s. Still. Going.
Now, admittedly, NASA was able to design, build, and land a much bigger and more powerful model of rover, Curiosity, on Mars back in 2012. But Opportunity’s longevity is cause for much celebration. And with these success stories under their belts, NASA scientists are looking to the future and the next Mars rover that will join these two robots.
This new as-yet-unnamed Mars rover is set to be launched in 2020 and will be geared towards collecting rock and soil samples (with the intent of getting those samples back home to planet earth) and a focus on detecting organic life. What is new and exciting about this rover is the science payload, which is remarkably different from what Curiosity is carrying. Check the entire list of what the Mars 2020 rover will be carrying on IEEE Spectrum’s website.
The big equipment that this new rover will be carrying is codenamed MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment). It’s a piece of equipment that will attempt to convert Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. If it works, it’ll be our very first tentative stab at seeing what it’s going to take to keep humans alive on Mars.
The Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to land in 2021, but before that, the ExoMars rover (a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos) will land on Mars in 2018 or 2019 and start doing its own thing. So don’t feel down, Opportunity. Your ten long and lonely years on the Red Planet may soon be over. It’s starting to get very busy on Mars, and it’s all thanks to NASA scientists and their incredible robots.