NASA's Curiosity rover, selfie, 2015
NASA's Curiosity rover, selfie, 2015

A Mars rover is a 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 (1997–1997), Opportunity (2004–2018), Spirit (2004–2010), Curiosity (2012–), and Perseverance (2021–). The sixth, managed by the China National Space Administration, is Zhurong (2021–).

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 July 2022, 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

Multiple rovers have been dispatched to Mars:

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

Active

Not active

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

Failed

Planned

Proposed

Undeveloped

Timeline of rover surface operations

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).
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.
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

Acheron FossaeAcidalia PlanitiaAlba MonsAmazonis PlanitiaAonia PlanitiaArabia TerraArcadia PlanitiaArgentea PlanumArgyre PlanitiaChryse PlanitiaClaritas FossaeCydonia MensaeDaedalia PlanumElysium MonsElysium PlanitiaGale craterHadriaca PateraHellas MontesHellas PlanitiaHesperia PlanumHolden craterIcaria PlanumIsidis PlanitiaJezero craterLomonosov craterLucus PlanumLycus SulciLyot craterLunae PlanumMalea PlanumMaraldi craterMareotis FossaeMareotis TempeMargaritifer TerraMie craterMilankovič craterNepenthes MensaeNereidum MontesNilosyrtis MensaeNoachis TerraOlympica FossaeOlympus MonsPlanum AustralePromethei TerraProtonilus MensaeSirenumSisyphi PlanumSolis PlanumSyria PlanumTantalus FossaeTempe TerraTerra CimmeriaTerra SabaeaTerra SirenumTharsis MontesTractus CatenaTyrrhen TerraUlysses PateraUranius PateraUtopia PlanitiaValles MarinerisVastitas BorealisXanthe TerraMap of Mars
The image above contains clickable links Interactive image map of the global topography of Mars, overlain with locations of Mars Lander and Rover sites. Hover your mouse over the image to see the names of over 60 prominent geographic features, and click to link to them. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations, based on data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. Whites and browns indicate the highest elevations (+12 to +8 km); followed by pinks and reds (+8 to +3 km); yellow is 0 km; greens and blues are lower elevations (down to −8 km). Axes are latitude and longitude; Polar regions are noted.
(   Active ROVER  Inactive  Active LANDER  Inactive  Future )
Beagle 2
Beagle 2 (2003)
Bradbury Landing
Curiosity (2012)
Deep Space 2
Deep Space 2 (1999)


InSight Landing
InSight (2018)
Mars 2
Mars 2 (1971)
Mars 3
Mars 3 (1971)
Mars 6
Mars 6 (1973)
Mars Polar Lander
Polar Lander (1999)
Challenger Memorial Station
Opportunity (2004)
Mars 2020
Perseverance (2021)
Green Valley
Phoenix (2008)
Schiaparelli EDM
Schiaparelli EDM (2016)
Carl Sagan Memorial Station
Sojourner (1997)
Columbia Memorial Station
Spirit (2004)
Zhurong (2021)
Thomas Mutch Memorial Station
Viking 1 (1976)
Gerald Soffen Memorial Station
Viking 2 (1976)
Mars Landing Sites (December 16, 2020)
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".[34]

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

  • Sojourner rover on Mars
    Sojourner rover on Mars
  • Comparison of wheels: Mars Sojourner rover, MER, MSL
    Comparison of wheels: Mars Sojourner rover, MER, MSL
  • Comparison (2008): MER, Sojourner rover, MSL
    Comparison (2008): MER, Sojourner rover, MSL
  • Comparison (2011): MER, Sojourner rover, humans, MSL
    Comparison (2011): MER, Sojourner rover, humans, MSL
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
Comparison of the distances travelled by various Mars rovers

See also

References

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  2. ^ Various (January 24, 2014). "Special Issue - Table of Contents - Exploring Martian Habitability". Science. 343 (6169): 345–452. Retrieved 24 January 2014.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
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