NASA's Curiosity rover, selfie, 2015

A Mars rover is a remote-controlled motor vehicle designed to travel on the surface of Mars. Rovers have several advantages over stationary landers: they examine more territory, they can be directed to interesting features, they can place themselves in sunny positions to weather winter months, and they can advance the knowledge of how to perform very remote robotic vehicle control. They serve a different purpose than orbital spacecraft like Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A more recent development is the Mars helicopter.

As of May 2021, there have been six successful robotically operated Mars rovers; the first five, managed by the American NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, were (by date of Mars landing): Sojourner (1997), Spirit (2004–2010), Opportunity (2004–2018), Curiosity (2012–present), and Perseverance (2021–present). The sixth, managed by the China National Space Administration, is Zhurong (2021–2022).

On January 24, 2016, NASA reported that then current studies on Mars by Opportunity and Curiosity would be searching for evidence of ancient life, including a biosphere based on autotrophic, chemotrophic or chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms, as well as ancient water, including fluvio-lacustrine environments (plains related to ancient rivers or lakes) that may have been habitable.[1][2][3][4][5] The search for evidence of habitability, taphonomy (related to fossils), and organic carbon on Mars is now a primary NASA objective.[1][6]

The Soviet probes, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were physically tethered probes; Sojourner was dependent on the Mars Pathfinder base station for communication with Earth; Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity were on their own. As of November 2023, Curiosity is still active, while Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner completed their missions before losing contact. On February 18, 2021, Perseverance, the newest American Mars rover, successfully landed. On May 14, 2021, China's Zhurong became the first non-American rover to successfully operate on Mars.

Missions

See also: List of missions to Mars

Multiple rovers have been dispatched to Mars:

Rover and lander captured by HiRISE from NASA's MRO on June 6, 2021
Zhurong rover and lander captured by HiRISE from NASA's MRO on 6 June 2021

Active

Past

Sojourner disembarks Mars Pathfinder base station lander on the surface of planet Mars

Failed

Planned

Proposed

Undeveloped

Timeline of rover surface operations

Zhurong (rover)Perseverance (rover)Curiosity (rover)Opportunity (rover)Spirit (rover)Sojourner (rover)

Examples of instruments

Curiosity's (MSL) rover "hand" featuring a suite of instruments on a rotating "wrist". Mount Sharp is in the background (September 8, 2012).
Opportunity's first self-portrait including the camera mast on Mars
(February 14−20, 2018 / sols 4998−5004). It was taken with its microscopic imager instrument.

Examples of instruments onboard landed rovers include:

Mars landing locations

Map of Mars
Interactive image map of the global topography of Mars, overlaid with the position of Martian rovers and landers. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations of Martian surface.
Clickable image: Clicking on the labels will open a new article.
Legend:   Active (white lined, ※)  Inactive  Planned (dash lined, ⁂)
(viewdiscuss)
Beagle 2Beagle 2
Bradbury Landing
Curiosity
Deep Space 2
Deep Space 2
Rosalind FranklinRosalind Franklin
InSightInSight
Mars 2Mars 2
Mars 3Mars 3
Mars 6Mars 6
Mars Polar Lander
Mars Polar Lander ↓
OpportunityOpportunity
Perseverance
Perseverance
PhoenixPhoenix
Schiaparelli EDM
Schiaparelli EDM
SojournerSojourner
Spirit
Spirit
Tianwen-1Zhurong
Viking 1
Viking 1
Viking 2Viking 2
Mars Landing Sites (December 16, 2020)

NASA Mars rover goals

Circa the 2010s, NASA had established certain goals for the rover program.

NASA distinguishes between "mission" objectives and "science" objectives. Mission objectives are related to progress in space technology and development processes. Science objectives are met by the instruments during their mission in space.

The science instruments are chosen and designed based on the science objectives and goals. The primary goal of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers was to investigate "the history of water on Mars".[41]

The four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program are:

Panorama of Husband Hill taken by the Spirit rover (November 2005)

Gallery

Opportunity rover later visited its heat shield impact site; it was ejected during the rover's descent and impacted the surface separately.
Comparison of the distances travelled by various Mars rovers

See also

References

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