Student Features

Text Size

Next Stop Mars
12.09.03
 
Mars Airplane Over Terrain
Image above: Mars Airplane Over Land
What will the next ship that goes to Mars look like? You might think of something from Star Wars. The first Mars airplane was tested in September, 2002. It's not a regular airplane. It won't take off from an airport runway. The Mars airplane takes off into space on a rocket. It is kept in a special case called an aeroshell. When it gets close to the surface of the planet, it is released. Then, it goes closer to the planet. The first plane won't carry people. But, people might get to ride in one someday.


Mars Airplane in Hanger
Image above: Mars Airplane in Hanger
The plane will not land on Mars. It will fly more than a mile above the surface. It will collect facts about the geology and the atmosphere of Mars. That information will be sent to Earth. Scientists will study what is found.

We have been to Mars. A rover called Sojourner was sent in 1997. It landed on Mars. But, it didn't go far from where it landed. It collected a lot of information for researchers. Other missions have flown by the planet. Some have orbited it. They have taken pictures of Mars. The Mars airplane does something different. It doesn't get information by landing on the planet. It just gets close enough to get facts about the surface and crust of Mars. It can gather more information than the other crafts that have gone to Mars. It will measure how much water and other gases are in the atmosphere. It will send better pictures than the others that have been sent.

Balloon Launch
Image above: Balloon Lifting the Eagle Airplane
The plane is called the Eagle. It went on its first flight in 2002. How did it do that and not leave Earth? The Eagle was taken very high. That is because our atmosphere does not have as much push as you go higher. To get that high, a balloon lifted the Eagle. One of the hardest things to do was to get a balloon big enough. To make the plane small enough to fit inside the aeroshell, the wings and tail were folded underneath the plane. Then, the plane was packed into its special case. The Eagle was let out. The wings unfolded. The tail straightened. The Eagle sailed through the air. When it landed, the mission was called a full success.

The next steps are to get the plane ready for a full trip to Mars. This trip is planned for about 2011. The important basics have been solved. The Mars airplane can be released from its case. It can unfold its wings and tail sections. It can follow its path. It can get new information. Next stop: Mars.

 
 
Published by NASAexplores