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Mars Globe

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THE RED PLANET: Mars has been the subject of intense study for the past two centuries. Its exploration has been wrought with success and failure, and has witnessed a dramatic evolution in knowledge. Speculations about the famous “irrigation canals” on Mars in the late 1800’s were finally put to rest by images returned from NASA’s Mariner 4 mission in 1965. Revealing impact craters and a barren landscape, they dispelled thoughts of thriving, agricultural civilizations. In the 1970’s NASA’s Viking mission carried out life-detection experiments on the surface. The results, indicating a lifeless planet, raised more questions than answers. The next two decades were met with struggle as several spacecraft from the US, Japan, Europe, and former USSR were lost. Success resurfaced in the late 1990’s with the ESA orbiter Mars Express and NASA’s Pathfinder rover, and Global Surveyor and Odyssey orbiters—heralding the mantra “Follow the Water.” In 2004, NASA’s twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity began their work, which is still ongoing today. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Phoenix lander followed. As data from these robotic explorers piled up, so did evidence that Mars preserves a record of surface liquid water and possibly habitable environments. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, launching in late 2011 and arriving in August, 2012 will carry an unprecedented suite of instruments that will bring us one step closer to determining if life ever started on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/Mars Global Surveyor
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