Mars regained the world’s attention this fall, with recent news of the discovery of liquid water on the planet and a new blockbuster film set on Earth’s nearest neighbor, The Martian. This is a timely moment to focus on Red Planet Day, November 28.

Celebrate the fourth planet from our solar system’s sun with our series of blogs discussing general information about Mars, some of the more than 40 space missions humans have launched to study the planet, a section on the future of Mars and plans for manned missions to the planet, and concluding with links to fiction and non-fiction on Mars.

From Mars Hill near Flagstaff, the location of the main facility of Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered, to the Lunar Planetary Laboratory (LPL) at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Kitt Peak, which houses a massive collection of diverse astronomical instruments, our state has a long storied history in astronomy and with the Red Planet. UA’s LPL has been involved with the Mars Odyssey Orbiter, Phoenix Mars Lander, Mars Polar Lander, Mars Observer, Viking, HiRISE and Mars Reconnaissance Observer, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, Mars Pathfinder, Beagle 2, Mars Exploration Rovers, and MAVEN missions to our crimson neighbor among many other lunar, planetary, and solar missions to study our solar system and the galaxies beyond.

In this pioneering, exploratory spirit, Liberty Traditional School, your Phoenix charter school, has paired with the other campuses in our district to put together a retrospective on 50 years of successful exploration on Mars for you to enjoy with your child and commemorate Red Planet Day. You can also enjoy the word search created especially for this topic.

Preparing for Manned Missions

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NASA Astronauts have been told since the 1960s that a mission to Mars could be in their future, even before humans took their first steps on the Moon, man looked toward the Red Planet. Timelines put forth by aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun and then Vice President Spiro Agnew stated man could be on Mars by 1982 and the year 2000, respectively. After reaching the moon in 1969, the American space program redirected its focus and missions to Mars.

The success of Mars exploration and the discoveries spurred scientific and popular interest in the Red Planet. Science and culture, which merged and influenced one another in other sectors during the race to the moon and after, recently reconnected and are helping direct plans for future exploration. In 2010, the goals set by the bi-partisan NASA Authorization Act and US National Space Policy prompted NASA to develop the necessary capabilities to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars shortly thereafter, in the 2030s. The agency hopes to accomplish these goals through a multi-tiered plan.

SLS & Orion Spacecraft

Since 2011, NASA has been designing and testing the Space Launch System (SLS) and working on Orion, the first spacecraft designed for the express purpose of deep space travel. Both of these projects are small steps in the human Journey to Mars. The SLS is the most powerful rocket developed thus far; it can carry three times the payload that the Space Shuttles were capable of. Even so, the SLS is not yet powerful enough to propel a craft to Mars.

Other Preparations

Through experiments and astronaut studies on the International Space Station, scientists have gathered a wealth of information about how humans physically and psychologically are affected by extended periods in space. Other experiments, including growing and eating lettuce in low-Earth orbit and testing technologies which could be used in deep space travel, are invaluable to future space-faring efforts.

NASA and other organizations designed various plans for getting man to Mars. While some organizations have no qualms about delivering and leaving settlers on the Red Planet, NASA’s plan includes a way to return Mars explorers back to Earth. This more cautious approach seems to have contributed to the time needed to prepare for a manned mission to the Red Planet.

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