Jack Bonner has long been a fan of space and space exploration. When he was a little boy, he drew comics about a fictional planet that was colonized by humans. While the prospect of humans setting foot on other planets still seems remote, NASA has managed to send a series of probes to Mars, giving scientists more information about the Red Planet and its potential for human inhabitation. While Jack Bonner thinks a lot of progress has been made in this regard over the past twenty years, there is still much to be learned about Earth’s next-door neighbor.
On the Fourth of July this year, NASA commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first unmanned mission to Mars. Jack Bonner, who had been obsessed with space exploration since he was a kid, was fortunate enough to have witnessed the first touchdown of Pathfinder on the Red Planet. While the mission lasted just over three months, it was a milestone in the annals of space exploration that paved the way for future missions.
It may be argued that NASA’s Mars missions are designed to gather information for a potential manned mission in the future. Because scientists have long speculated that Mars once held liquid water, the two next missions – Curiosity and Spirit – were launched in 2004 and included instruments that found evidence of an ancient Martian environment that featured wet conditions. The humidity and soil composition of Mars, Jack Bonner argues, indicates that it would’ve been possible for life to have existed on the planet in the past.
The latest mission, a rover named Curiosity, was equipped with more advanced instruments, including an analytical tool that used a laser to vaporize space rocks and determine their composition. Curiosity has so far confirmed the findings of its forerunners Curiosity and Spirit – NASA said in a statement that there are mineral and chemical evidence of habitable environments in the past.
The exploration of Mars is also being done from high above its surface. The Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, orbits the planet and helps scientists identify sites for exploration. It also serves as a communications hub between Earth and NASA’s rovers on Mars. Another satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, provides high-resolution images of Mars to help NASA identify potential landing sites for future missions, both manned and unmanned.
Jack Bonner A2W and people like him are always looking forward to receiving more news from the Red Planet. While human colonization of Mars is still a long way ahead, the NASA missions are providing proof that it can be done.