Mars has a long history of inspiring humans to ask questions and explore it, by conducting fly-by missions, orbiting the planet, and actually landing on the surface. Mars continues to fascinate the leading minds of the world today by remaining mysterious about its past climate, geology, potential for life, and the ability of humans to perform manned missions there. This mission proposes to continue the search for life, by seeking evidence of past and present life and analyzing the potential for life to be sustained in the future at specific sites on the Martian surface. The past missions to Mars, questions driving the scientific research, possible benefactors, concepts of operations (ConOps), and assumptions and constraints all play a key role in this mission and defining its scope.
Past and present missions to Mars, whether successful in carrying out the intended mission goals, have answered and are in the process of answering some, but not nearly all, of the questions about the red planet. These missions are important to look at, in order to ensure that a new mission does not completely repeat the efforts of a previous undertaking and to analyze the skills and technologies that resulted from them. Following is a table of the past, present, and future missions to Mars along with their goals and objectives (National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2015a).
Return high-resolution, full-color images to Earth along with detailed images and information about rock and soil samples
Study the atmosphere and surface of Mars, as well as search for water under the surface, from polar orbit
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Fly the most powerful camera of any interplanetary mission to study the geology of Mars and look for potential future landing sites
Continue the search for subsurface water
Provide the first step toward a communications system between Earth and Mars
Mars Science Laboratory
Partner with international space agencies to land the Curiosity rover which will analyze soil and rock samples for organic compounds and conditions that could have sustained life or currently sustains life
Understand climate change on Mars by studying its atmosphere, including taking direct measurements and studying the rate of loss of atmosphere today
Conduct a series of missions to determine if life once existed on Mars
Conduct a series of missions to determine if life once existed on Mars
Use the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) to search for organic molecules that are the building blocks of life
2020 Mission Plans
Use a rover to continue to search for evidence of past life on Mars
Analyze conditions relevant to future manned missions to Mars
After examining the previous, current, and planned missions to Mars in addition to the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) goals, this missions questions, the driving force behind the science and exploration of the mission, were created. This mission will search for evidence of life in the past and present of Mars and the ability for it to sustain life in the future, such as if it were to be introduced, whether purposefully or accidentally, by humans. To satisfy the goal of finding evidence of life on Mars in the present, the following question was proposed: could there be life residing beneath the Martian surface? Organisms may have gone underground to seek the subsurface water that may exist there (Villard, 2013). The radiation that the surface receives, because there is very little atmosphere to offer protection, would make it hard for life to survive. In order to survive currently, or in the geologically recent past, going underground would provide the necessary defense against radiation for organisms (Cain, 2014). To answer this question, and to satisfy the MEP goal of determining if there was ever life on Mars (NASA, 2015b), a rover will dig deep beneath the surface and utilize technology to test for the presence of life. To investigate whether there was life on Mars in the past, the rover will simultaneously search for tiny fossils as it excavates. This continues to meet the MEP goal of determining if there was ever life on Mars. This also will meet the MEP goal of characterizing the geology of Mars (NASA, 2015b) by helping to answer another important question; are there fossils on Mars, indicating a past capability to sustain life, or is this process unique to Earth? The final portion of the mission will consider the future of life on Mars. This is driven by the question could Mars sustain life introduced to it? By selecting a site on Mars that exhibits similar environmental conditions to those of a site on Earth in which organisms can grow, the mission will continue to look at life on Mars, as well as preparing for human exploration, yet another MEP goal (NASA, 2015b). Ability for life to grow in the future under present conditions is important to know about should humans visit the planet.
This mission’s importance lies in the ongoing search for life on Mars. By employing a new type of search for life, by digging beneath the surface, scientists may get answers to their questions. A prominent concern is whether Mars ever was habitable or currently sustains life. This mission fulfills all parts of that question, as both the past and the present will be examined. The mission goes one step further to even analyze the future of life on Mars by determining if there is a site on Mars that exhibits similar conditions to a habitable zone on Earth. Should humans decide to introduce life, whether on purpose, such as to terraform the planet, or by accident, such as a bacteria that escapes a lab or was transported via humans or their equipment, it is important to know their ability to grow and to change Mars. It will be significant to know if anything that humans introduce while on a manned mission could be supported by Mars and its potential effects on the environment there. The mission satisfies current MEP goals, confirming its usefulness, and will answer fundamental questions about our neighboring planet.
This mission will be beneficial to many here on Earth. One set of benefactors from this mission is the science community. Biologists will know more about Mars’ past, present, and future ability to support life and potentially which organisms reside or resided there. Geologists can determine if making fossils is a process that has only occurred on Earth, or if similar activities take place elsewhere in the solar system. The scientists working on future manned missions to Mars may know more about the potential for life to grow on Mars and how it could affect humans and the Martian environment. Humans the world over will also benefit from this knowledge, especially since a question that intrigues people globally is whether or not life exists on Mars. The benefactors also add importance to the mission.
This mission will collect data on the mission subject, Mars, to accomplish each part of the mission. To find life beneath the surface, the mission will employ technology from a future NASA mission, the ExoMars rover. The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) will be utilized on that mission to search for the building blocks of life on the surface (NASA, 2015a). For this mission, the same technology will be applied, but used as the rover digs to take samples from beneath the surface, acting as an extension to the ExoMars rover mission. MOMA will take samples at regular intervals as the rover burrows deeper into the Martian crust to ensure that the search for life has occurred at various depths. Another type of technology, currently being used on Earth, will be sent to Mars to look for life in the present. The Subsurface Explorer for Assessment of Life (SEAL) is an eight-foot long biology probe shaped like a torpedo that searches for life below Earth’s surface (Villard, 2013). These will be invaluable in the search for life on Mars. To pursue fossils under the Martian surface, the rover will be equipped with a microscope to enlarge and then take pictures of the samples. The images will be sent back to scientists, who will examine them for the presence of extremely small fossils. Perhaps even classrooms or volunteers could inspect the images, to help scientists identify any potential fossils out of the great volume of images sent. For the future aspect of this mission, MOMA will again be applied to the situation. It will search for organic molecules in the site determined to resemble Earth. A miniaturized ultraviolet microscope, to detect bioluminescence (Villard, 2013), will also investigate. Other data will also be collected at that site, such as humidity, temperature, presence of a food source, potentially chemicals, among others, to decide if the two sites are similar and if the Mars location could support life.
Landing sites need to be carefully chosen to ensure that the proposed data will be able to be collected and to have the best chance for getting results. Since the mission is comprised of two parts, including the digging and the Earth-Mars site correlation, two sites and two rovers will be used. Two rovers are necessary, as the mission makes the most sense with two sites being investigated. The first portion, searching for life currently sustained below the Martian surface and fossils as evidence of past life, will require a site positioned near a formation that appears as if it has been shaped by water, as organisms would have had to have been near a water source (Erickson, 2015). Gusev Crater, visited by the Mars rover Spirit, was once a lakebed (Mars Spaceflight Facility, Arizona State University, 2014), which satisfies this requirement. Spirit also left a lot of it unexplored (Mars Spaceflight Facility, Arizona State University, 2014), meaning that it is a valuable area to continue to study. Gusev Crater is pictured to the right (United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2015). The second site is to be determined by a committee of scientists and officials from various fields who will decide which site on Mars will be able to be best correlated to a selected site from Earth.
The concepts of operation (ConOps) will allow the data to be collected. The mission will launch in May of 2018, an optimal time to go to Mars. The travel time to Mars will be between six and eight months (Mars One, 2015). At least a year will be spent collecting data, as it will take time to dig far beneath the surface, and many samples will also be taken. The mission elements include two rovers, one large enough to dig, acting as a subsurface explorer, the other smaller to examine the Earth-Mars site correlation, an orbiter spacecraft, and a multi-stage rocket. The following table shows a proposed timeline for the mission. Possible critical events include the landing of the rovers, as historically, that event has been the time at which communications have been lost most frequently (NASA, 2015a). Also, if the landing gear does not work or was not designed properly, the rover could break upon impact. Another critical event would be the digging, because it is unknown exactly what is there. This is also the most exciting part, as life could be found on a planet other than Earth.
Launch of ExoMars rover, carrying MOMA
Mission launch on a multi-stage rocket for trajectory to Mars
Between November 2018 and January 2019
Arrival at Mars
Once the orbiter is in orbit, the rovers will be released over their respective landing sites (the orbiter will then serve a communications purpose)
By end of March 2019
After tests of equipment are completed, begin data collection at both sites
Dig for about 5-10 miles over the lifetime of the vehicle (the distance depends on the findings and condition of the rover) into the 30 mile thick crust (Sharp, 2012)- the rover will need to dig at least .02055 miles or about 109 feet per day to dig 7.5 miles in one year
Around end of March 2020
It is anticipated that rovers will cease collection of data (end of warranty)
In order for this mission to be proposed and scoped, several assumptions must be made. One of these is that the MOMA will work for this application, underground, and that it can be placed in such a position that it will not be damaged during digging. Another assumption is that the technologies needed for all parts of the mission are developed enough for use in this function. This mission also assumes that there is a site on Mars that will work well enough for the site correlation aspect. Finally, it must be supposed that the mission elements can be ready for the planned 2018 launch deadline and will work within the budget constraints.
Fundamental to defining any mission are the constraints, or limitations, of the project. The budget is a primary constraint, because the mission will not have an unlimited money supply, and will decide which facets of the mission get the most attention and the feasibility of the parts. Another constraint is the possible landing sites available. Some places on Mars, though intriguing, do not possess suitable terrain conditions for the rover to land in, or could be too hard or dangerous for the rover to maneuver into and around. A final constraint is the time limit. May 2018 is an optimal time to launch, so it is imperative that the mission elements are ready so that the launch, and thus the mission, do not have to be delayed.
This mission proposes to continue the search for life on Mars, by seeking evidence of past and present life and analyzing the potential for life to be sustained in the future at specific sites on the Martian surface. Key to this mission are analysis of past Mars missions, the questions motivating the scientific research, possible benefactors, concepts of operations, assumptions, and constraints to define the mission and its scope.
Need: Understand the past, present, and future of life on Mars.
Goal: Find evidence of life on Mars in the past or present and analyze its ability to sustain life in the future.
Objective: Dig deep into the crust of Mars to search for living organisms and fossilized remains and correlate a site on Earth to similar conditions on Mars.
Mission: Transport two rovers to Mars in the same trip to search for evidence of life on Mars.
Cain, F. (2014). How can we live on Mars? Retrieved from http://www.universetoday.com/111462/how-can-we-live-on-mars/
Erickson, K. (2015). Is there life on Mars? Retrieved from http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/review/dr-marc-solar-system/life-on-mars.html
Mars One. (2015). How long does it take to travel to Mars? Retrieved from http://www.mars-one.com/faq/mission-to-mars/how-long-does-it-take-to-travel-to-mars
Mars Spaceflight Facility, Arizona State University (2014). Gusev Crater once held a lake after all, says Mars scientist. Retrieved from http://www.astronomy.com/news/2014/04/gusev-crater-once-held-a-lake-after-all-says-mars-scientist
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2015a). Missions. Retrieved from http://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2015b). Science. Retrieved from http://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/science/
Sharp, T. (2012). What is Mars made of?: Composition of planet Mars. Retrieved from http://www.space.com/16895-what-is-mars-made-of.html
United States Geological Survey. (2015). Gusav Crater MER landing site ellipse THEMIS IR mosaic. Retrieved from http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/search/details?id=/Mars/Odyssey/THEMIS-IR-Mosaic/gusev_uncontrolled_tone_mos.cub
Villard, R. (2013). Intraterrestrials: Mars life may hide deep below. Retrieved from http://news.discovery.com/space/alien-life-exoplanets/looking-for-martians-drill-baby-drill-130408.htm