Robotics - MarsBots

Robots are our scouts. They are our eyes and ears in new places. Some observe from a distance, others land, with some roving and gathering samples for close inspections.

Robots can be programmed to do amazing things, but they can only do what they have been programmed or commanded to do. Because they are machines, they have fewer needs and can endure more hostile conditions than people.

From their experiences, we know more about Mars than we could looking from Earth. Since the 1960s, we have sent flyby, orbiter, and lander spacecraft to the red planet. Each spacecraft, with its unique design and purpose, has added to our current understanding of Mars.

The first robotic missions flew near Mars, snapping pictures that showed us a planet that looked similar to the Earth's moon. Craters littered the surface. Later images revealed Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. A diverse Mars could be seen - older, heavily cratered southern highlands and younger, volcanic plains and lowlands. Channels appeared to be ancient river beds.

The next missions orbited and landed on the red planet. In addition to taking photographs and collecting other science data, the landers could conduct experiments. Some of these experiments looked for possible signs of life. Unexpected chemical activity was found in the soil near the landing sites, but no clear evidence for the presence of living microorganisms could be found.

With the help of robots, the surface of Mars has been mapped and analyzed. This surface has long been thought to consist of a mixture of rock, soil and icy material. No one knows, however, the exact composition of these materials. Orbiters, landers, and rovers, carrying sophisticated instruments, continue the search for liquid water.

Robotic missions help scientists explore Mars: its atmosphere, surface, and sub-surface. The next generation of robots will help track down sites for human settlement and look for needed resources, preparing for safe human exploration.

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