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To Mars with MER - Interact COUNTDOWN TO MARS
May 1, 2003
ON-AIR FAQ

PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE is very grateful to Steve Squyres, Don Banfield, Diane Bollen, and Pam Smith at Cornell University, Steve Collins, Jose Guzman, David E. Herman, Ramiro Perez, Mark Maimone, Mark Powell and Randy Lindemann at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Steve Ruff, Laura Mehall, Trevor Graff, Amy Knudson, Tim Glotch, and Alice Baldridge at the Arizona State University Mars Space Flight Facility for generously contributing their time and knowledge to support this unique service.

Building the Mars Exploration Rovers   Mars Exploration Rovers
Careers in Space Science   Careers in Robotics
Earth-Mars Comparisons   Future Missions to Mars
Future Missions   Getting to Mars   Landing on Mars
Life on Mars   Mars, the planet   Past Missions
Search for Life   Space Travel   Water on Mars

Building the Mars Exploration Rovers

Question:
What was the most exciting part of helping to build the rovers?

Answer:
After working on it for more than two years, watching the robot take its first baby steps was a great moment. Even better was watching it spot a big rock I'd placed in its path, and then steering around it safely. It's really rewarding to see something you built get up and move around on its own.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of the Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
What would be the estimated cost for building a research rover to Mars? How far is the craft in its development stages? From Miles Arnold Las Vegas Nevada

Answer:
Well, from year to year it varies, but the Mars Technology Program at JPL engages in research and development related to Mars rover missions with a budget on the order of tens of millions of dollars per year, although the actual amount can vary significantly from year to year, depending on the prioritization that is given to the Mars program and NASA by Congress.

The Mars Exploration Rovers that are launching in June represent a 60 million dollar program that spanned about 3 years in development. These rovers are scheduled to land on Mars (at Meridiani and Gusev) in January and Feburary of 2004.

You can see a whole story, week by week, of how the progress of these rovers has been going at the Athena science website: http://athena.cornell.edu

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How long do it take to make the Mars Exploration Rovers?

Answer:
Wow... it seems like it's been a really long time! We actually started designing the rovers in detail and building them in the summer of 2000... less than three years ago. But we've been working on this idea, trying to make it happen, since December of 1995. As you can imagine, after all this time it's pretty exciting to be this close to launch.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
What adaptations have been made to the rovers to help ensure safe movement over the terrain?

Jacqui

Answer:
The rover has a "rocker bogie" suspension system.

Each of the six wheels moves independently and can move over small rocks without tipping over. The rover also has a hazard avoidance system. There are small cameras on the back and front of the rover called hazcams. These cameras frequently take pictures of the ground in front of the rover and an onboard computer analyzes the data to determine whether or not the path is clear. If it determines that the path is not clear, the rover turns to the right or left.

Expert:
Diane Bollen
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Cornell University

Question:
How seriously has a design for a system to clear the dust off of the solar panels of the rover been studied.

Have ultrasonic vibrations combined with pulsed jets of high pressure gas directed at the solar panel surface been considered as a solution?

Or perhaps ionic repulsion of the dust particles, which, are surely charged.

It seems to me that the advantages of successfully designing and implementing a system to clear the panels, and thus extend the life of the mission has tremendous payoffs.

It also seems to me that such a design would not be unfeasible.

Please discuss this issue.
Thanks!
Thomas Clardy

Answer:
Hello Thomas,

Excellent question.

We have looked for ways to extend the life of the Mars surface missions by finding ways to clean the solar arrays.

There are various factors which we have to consider when designing a spacecraft. We have to look at how much money we have to operate the mission, we have to look at the cost of such a cleaner on the mass of the spacecraft, the power demand of the cleaner, noise generated by the cleaner, and on the lifespace of other components on the spacecraft. As you can see it is not a simple issue.

Maybe one day you can join us and help us come up with a solution.

Keep studying and be sure to have fun!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How durable are the robots on Mars to a Mars sandstorm? How long will they last during one?
From: Merita Bushi at Bateman School

Answer:
Hi Merita,
Great question. The robots (aka rovers) were designed to withstand the Martian environment.

"Mars wind speeds are usually low(about 4.5 mph), but during sandstorms they can reach speeds of up to 50 mph. The dust is not sandy, as in a sandstorm on Earth, but has the consistency of flour."

The upcoming Mars Exploration Rover mission is designed to last about 90 Martian days. It is believed that this is how long it will take for enough dust accumulate on the solar panels and cause the robots to not have enough power to continue the mission.

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
How fast does the Rover have to be going to land safely on Mars without being destroyed?-Miami Park Elementary, FL

Answer:
The Mars Exploration Rover's airbags are designed to withstand maximum vertical velocities up 12 meters per second and tangential velocity of 16 meters per second.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
I have been practicing building rovers at my house (real rovers with real motors). Is the job an interesting one and do you think I can be employed when I grow up?

Answer:
Wow, you're building rovers? That's fantastic!

Personally, I think building something that can be remotely controlled is incredibly interesting. I think that there will be many job oppotunities in the future for people who know how to build rovers they can be used in so many places not just on other planets but at the very bottom of the Earth's oceans. There is even talk about extremely tiny rovers that could be injected into human bodies to find tumors and other diseases. I think rover technology is the way of the future and if you study really hard now there should be many job opportunities for you in the future.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What happens if the lander lands upside down.

Answer:
The lander has four sides. The base side and four petals.

If it lands on the base side, then the petals open up normally.

If it lands on a petal side, then that petal will open and cause the lander to flop over onto the base. It will then open the other petals like normal.

Take a look at the video. It actually shows the case that you are asking about.

Good question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Mars Exploration Rovers

Question:
How long will it take the rovers to observe the certain areas on Mars? From Zachary Grimm Las Vegas, Nevada

Answer:
The two rovers will be sent to Gusev crater and Meridiani (the "hematite" site). It is not yet decided which rover will go to which area. When they arrive, each rover will take observations of the area for at least 90 days. It is quite possible that they will go even longer than projected, as the Mars Sojourner rover did (it was projected to go for a week and lasted about 2 months). The seasonal changes on Mars are such that the temperature and availability of sunlight will be reduced significantly as the mission progress, and so a duration of as long as 180 days is probably the most that the rovers could possibly last, and even then toward the end the available sunlight power will be so low that operations will be minimal.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How durable are the robots on Mars to a Mars sandstorm? How long will they last during one?
From: Merita Bushi at Bateman School

Answer:
The rovers are projected to last for quite some time. The nomimal mission duration for each rover is 90 days, although operations may even last significantly longer than that, as was the case with the Mars Sojourner rover.

The two landing sites that have been selected, Meridiani and Gusev, were selected in large part due to the relatively benign wind conditions.

The major problem is that events like sandstorms will pose for the rovers is the dust that they kick up that settles on the solar panels. Excessive dust build up will tend to diminish the power available to run the rover during daytime operations, which is when all driving and most science activities take place. The rover engineering team will constantly monitor the rate of dust buildup on the solar panels of each rover and send up corrective action sequences to shake off dust as often as is required to maintain adequate power for operations.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How long can the Rover stay on Mars? Also, are you seeking any specific information on the mission?

Answer:
The rovers are designed to last 90 Martian days. The goals of the mission are "to determine the history of climate and water at two sites on Mars where conditions may once have been favorable to life."

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
How long to get to Mars?

Answer:
The rovers will launch on June 5 and June 25 according to the current schedule. The rovers will arrive at Mars (at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum) next year. The first will land around the first week of Jaunary, and the second about 3-4 weeks later, making the whole trip about 6 months.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
What do you think you will find on Mars? Christian

Answer:
We think that we will find a lot of interesting things. The Meridiani Planum site was chosen because of the grey hematite that has been found there from orbit. This is an important clue for finding evidence of water on Mars, since on Earth grey hematite only forms in the presence of water. The second site Gusev crater has some surrounding geological features that also make it an interesting site to study for clues to the present or past existence of water on Mars.

We will also study the atmosphere of Mars. We have the oppportunity now for the first time to examine the Martian atmosphere not only from orbit looking down but also from the ground looking up (using the rover instruments). One of the science goals of the mission is at least once have the Mars Odyssey orbiter looking down through the atmosphere pointing at the rover, while the rover is looking up with it's instruments pointing at Odyssey in orbit. This will let us study the same volume of atmosphere from two points of view at the same time and it should produce some interesting results.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How do the Mars Exploration Rovers get back from Mars?

Answer:
There is no plans to bring the Mars Exploration Rovers back from Mars. Maybe sometime in the distant future, we'll bring them back as museum pieces (say several hundred years from now). I actually think its pretty cool that they will be left there. If I were one of the machinists that built parts that will fly to Mars, I would be proud to know that my handiwork was going to sit on the surface of Mars for as long as we know. Then at night, I would go out and find Mars, and say "I sent a piece of my work there!"...

The Mars Exploration Rovers spacecraft will send back data, using radio waves and giant receiver dishes on the earth. This way, we'll get all the information we need from the spacecraft without actually ever touching them again.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
How many days does it take to get to Mars?

Answer:
The rovers will launch on June 5 and June 25 according to the current schedule. The rovers will arrive at Mars (at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum) next year. The first will land around the first week of Jaunary, and the second about 3-4 weeks later, making the whole trip about 6 months.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Why pick Mars and not another planet?
Angelit

Answer:
Mars is especially interesting among the known planets because it is in many ways the most similar to Earth. Mercury, Venus and Mars are like the earth in that they are 'terrestrial planets', meaning that they have solid surfaces you could stand on (Jupiter and the outer giant planets do not). Mercury differs from Earth in that it has essentially no atmosphere... whereas Venus and Mars do have atmospheres and winds, clouds, etc.. Venus, however, has a huge atmosphere, about 90 times as thick as ours. The result of this is that the temperature on the surface of Venus is extremely high, about 460C, or over 800F... much hotter than your oven at home can get. So it's not very hospitable for life. Mars has a smaller atmosphere, about 200 times thinner than our own, and also is colder, typically about as cold as the coldest place on earth, or maybe colder still. But it is conceivable that there might have once been life there, or even life there now, in some exotic niches where life is amazingly tenacious. We also have seen evidence of past water flow on Mars, and probable lake deposits.... to understand these better, and to understand the different paths that Mars and Earth have taken over the history of the solar system is the over-arching goal of the Mars program. The Mars Exploration Rovers are simply the next step in this big project.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
I was wondering what is the purpose of the current mission to Mars, and whether there will be future manned missions to Mars?

Nancy

Answer:
The Mars Exploration Rover Mission seeks to determine the history of climate and water at two specific sites on Mars, where we believe conditions may have once been favorable to life. Each rover carries 5 scientific instruments where these so called "Field Geologists" will conduct experiments and provide clues and information about the history of Mars. Currently Mars Odyssey is orbiting Mars and conducting experiments and gathering important data such as the (MARIE) Mars Radiation Environment Experiment which will determine the amount of radiation levels a human will be exposed to in a future mission to Mars.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
How long will the batteries last on the robots? What areas besides math will prepare a person to work in robotics. Is there a particular major, or are Liberal Arts majors without a chance to work in robotics?
Thank you for answering our questions.
8th Grade Students, Weed Union Elementary School

Answer:
Just like your cell phones, gameboys and mp3 players, the batteries on the robots wouldn't be powerful enough to keep them going very long. But fortunately they're rechargable, and the Sun provides plenty of energy. So with constant recharging from the Sun, the batteries and the rover itself should last at least 3 months.

There are lots of different ways you can work in robotics. Math is important for all of them. But depending on what parts you like best, additional areas include Electrical Engineering (to design the computers and wiring that control the robots), Mechanical Engineering (to make the pieces that hold the robot together), and Computer Science (to write the programs that make thr robot smart enough to move around the real world). People who major in Liberal Arts certainly have chances to work on robotics projects too, but mostly they'll be either managing the people who design the robots, making movies of the robots in action or writing descriptions of what the robots can do.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of the Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
My question is, what are the risks from this mission?

Answer:
There are many risks involved when you attempt to explore the unexplored. Mars has a very hostile environment where temperatures can drop below 120 deg C as well as radiation and sandstorms. Two thirds of all missions attempted to Mars have ended in failure. A million things have to go right for these rovers to land and all it take is one thing to go wrong and lose the mission.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
How many months to get to Mars?

Answer:
It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to get to Mars depending on the distance of Mars from the Earth and the size of rocket used for launch. Mars Pathfinder took 7 months while Mars Global Surveyor took 11 months.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What is the main purpose of this upcoming mission?

Jacqui

Answer:
The purpose of the Mars Exploration Rover mission is to determine the history of climate and water at two site on Mars where conditions may once have been favorable to life.. The rovers' scientific instruments will be used to read the geologic record at each site, to investigate what role water played there..

Expert:
Diane Bollen
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Cornell University

Question:
Considering the past landings, what enhancements have been added to ensure a safe landing this time?

Jacqui

Answer:
Hi Jacqui,

Great question! The Mars Exploration Rovers have been through months and months of testing. They will be using a landing system quite similar to the landing system of the very successful Mars Pathfinder mission. Each rover has retro rockets and a parachute to slow the spacecraft down, then giant airbags will inflate and entire craft will bounce on the Martian surface. Once all of the bouncing ceases the airbags will deflate and the rovers will be ready to be on their way. Every aspect of the landing has been rigorously tested and reviewed by many experts.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How long to get to Mars?

Answer:
It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to get to Mars depending on the distance of Mars from the Earth and the size of rocket used for launch. Mars Pathfinder took 7 months while Mars Global Surveyor took 11 months.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How long does it take to make a rover?
Lizzie

Answer:
Lizzie,
It takes a long time to make a Mars rover. The rover has lots of scientific instruments on it. Each of these instruments has to be designed, built and tested. This can take a couple of years or more. The body of the rover also has to be built and tested, and then the instruments have to be attatched. Once the instruments are attatched to the rover, the whole thing is tested again, because we want to be real sure that it works when it gets to Mars. The whole process takes about four years.

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How long does it take for a rover to land on Mars?
Jennifer

Answer:
Jennifer,
Once the rover launches, it takes about six months for it to get to Mars. It enters the atmosphere and is on the ground in just a few minutes. Once the lander opens up, the rover will sit there for a day or two to take measurements of the areas around it so the scientists can figure out where to send it.

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How do instruments analyze the composition of the Martian surface and atmosphere?

Max

Answer:
I can tell you about one specific instrument and hopefully that will help answer your question. Currently there are two spectrometers in orbit at Mars: the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) on the Mars Global Surveyor and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. There will also be a spectrometer similar to TES on the rovers that are launching this summer. These spectrometers are camers, only they see in different wavelengths than most of the camers that you probably use. They see in the thermal wavelengths (kind of like heat). Everything vibrates. You do, plants do, rocks do...the molecules that make these things up have energy and stretch and pull and bend at different wavelengths. Different materials vibrate differents, faster or slower depending on what they are made up of. The cameras that we have at mars can measure the wavelengths that the rocks on the surface, or the clouds in the atmosphere are vibrating at, or how fast they are vibrating and from this we can tell the difference between different rocks on the surface or different gasses in the atmosphere. I hope this helps you understand a little!

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
When NASA sends the robot up to mars, how does it control where it goes and what it does?
Bernadette Hansen
Bateman school

Answer:
This is one of the most important things that our team is working on right now. The rover doesn't decide all by itself where to go... we look at the pictures that have been sent back to Earth, and we decide where we'd like to send the rovers.

What we'd really like to do, of course, is "joystick" the rovers... in other words, we'd like to steer them right around the rocks we see, like a remote-controlled car. But we can't do that. Mars is so far away that even at the speed of light it takes a long time -- sometimes ten minutes or more -- for a radio signal to get there.

What we do, instead, is tell the rover which direction we want it to go and how far, and we leave it to the rover to use its cameras to identify possible obstacles and figure out how to steer around them. It's like a form of artificial intelligence.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
I own a robot that I bought at the Kennedy Space Center and it was about $1000. Do you think it could be used it could be used as a rover?

Answer:
Well, there are all kinds of "robots", but not all of them can work as rovers. Does yours have wheels? How about cameras? Any other scientific instruments?

The robots that actually get sent to Mars will have lots of other special capabilities too, and must be protected against the harsh environment of space.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of the Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
My name is micheal grey and i wanted to know if you sell rovers and if you do than how much would you sell it for because i really want one so if you do sell them send me one and i will pay the fee.

Answer:
Hi Michael,

Sorry, but here at JPL we only build rovers either for Mars or for research groups at NASA-sponsored places; NASA centers and some universities mostly.

You can buy parts to make robots online or at your local hobby shops though. Lego Mindstorms has some Mars rover kits, and there are lots of books about robots, some of which include kits.

Good luck!

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
How much does the Rover weight?

Answer:
The rover itself weighs 184 Kilograms unlike Sojourner which only weighed 10.6 Kilograms but the whole Mars Exploration Rovers spacecraft weighs approximately 1063 Kilograms.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
What have you changed or improved that make you sure that this Mars trip will be a success? What caused the failure in past times?

Answer:
Failures of space missions in general have happened over the last 40 years...these missions are all different and each has unique challenges, and there are always risks, as with most things in life. The USSR, for instance, never had a successful landed mission to Mars, despite many attempts...they were all failures.

We have certainly learned important lessons from our failures, and particularly from our recent failures with Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter. The failures on both of these missions basically amount to failure of people to manage the complexity of their endeavour. Even people who are "rocket scientists" are just people, and problems like miscommunication between people can cause enormous problems in all kinds of teams.

For this mission, we have learned ways to improve the communication process between scientists, engineers, and even the public, and although we plan for and expect success, the possibility of failure is still there. The important thing is perserverance...if we believe that the exploration of Mars is important, then we will keep trying.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
If the rover's airbags blew, what would happen?
Roberto

Answer:
Roberto,

It really depends on which airbags ruptured, how many ruptured and when they ruptured.

The consequences could range from 'no damage' to 'partial damage' to 'mission failure'.

Let's hope that they don't rupture.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How do the Mars Exploration Rovers get back from Mars?

Answer:
The Mars Exploration Rovers will remain on Mars once the mission is over, just like the Sojourner rover, which operated on Mars in 1997 and it still there.

It is very tricky to take off again from the surface of Mars once you are there, because there is no fuel there, so you would have to use whatever you brought with you. If you brought enough fuel to blast off again once you were at Mars, then the weight of that fuel makes the launch that got you there in the first place even harder (you need even more fuel to launch the extra fuel...you see where this is going?).

There has not yet been a sample return mission to Mars for this reason, but in the next decade we will probably see our first successful sample return mission to Mars and back.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How do you control the space rover?

Kayla age 8

Answer:
Hi Kayla,

We collect information from the rover about where it is and what it is looking at and then we create commands to tell it where it should go next.

Those commands are then sent to the rover. When the rover is done with the commands we start over again.

Good question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How can you see where the rover is going?
Daphne age 8

Answer:
Hi Daphne,

The rover has a pair of cameras which act just like eyes. It looks around by taking pictures.

The rover has an ability to interpret the pictures and to see where it it going. It even knows how to see that a big rock is in its way and to drive around the rock.

We also get the pictures at JPL then our engineers and scientists figure out where to send the rover next.

Good question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Will the rover disintagrate after a few years?

Answer:
The rover should stay in pristine condition on the surface of Mars for many millions of years. Disintigration, or weathering, as geologists call it occurs due to chemical reactions that take place between a surface (rock, or metal...) and water. Since there no liquid water on the surface of Mars, we won't have to worry about the rovers disintigrating.

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How long did it take to build the rover?[madison]

Answer:
The whole project of designing and building the rovers, their cruise modules and other systems has took about 3 years and a team of thousands.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Is this the first time you built a robot to explore a planet?
Genesis Santos
3rd grade
Palm Springs Elementary

Answer:
There are a bunch of robots that have already gone to visit other planets. People from several countries have been exploring the planets for over 40 years now. But this is *my* first time building a robot to explore another planet.

I've had lots of practise though. I've built robots that have been tested in Mars-like sandboxes here in California, and I've spent months tests a robot in the Atacama Desert in Chile, just like these folks are doing now: http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/projects/atacama/html/overview.html

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
How many inches would a Rover travel in 3 days?

Answer:
The rover can travel up to about 100m in one day. So in 3 days, if all it did was drive as fast as it could, it would go about 300m (~3 football fields). But it probably won't move that fast on Mars. We'll make it stop to look at rock outcrops, take images and spectra of the sky, dig in the soil, basically do the science we've sent it there to do. While its doing this, it can't drive. Plus, since the driving uses so much power, we almost don't have power to run the science experiments when the rover has been driven that day.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Do you have a backup plan if the robot was to break within few hours of landing?
Lawrence Gort
Palm Springs Elementary

Answer:
Hi Lawrence,

Yes we do. We made sure to design the robot with enough extra parts that even if one thing should break, we could still keep using it. For instance, if our main antenna breaks, we can always use the second antenna. It wouldn't be as nice, because the second antenna cannot send as much information as the main one, but it would be good enough to get the job done. Similarly, even if one camera should break, we have 8 others; and if one wheel should break, there are 5 others.

Good question though!

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
What gave you the idea to make a rover?
Luciana age 8

Answer:
Hi Luciana,
Great question! Many years ago we sent a couple of robots to Mars called Viking 1 and 2. They landed and took pictures but didn't move around. The next step was to send rovers (moving robots) so we can see a little more. We sent a little rover called Pathfinder in 1997 and we are sending two more rovers(-we have not decided on names yet) that are a little bigger next month. Stay tuned too see their pictures on TV early next year!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
How do you protect the camera from the dust?
Laura age 8

Answer:
Hi Laura,

Good question! Some of the cameras on the robot will have dust covers, which will help a lot. Four of the cameras are up on the "mast head", and will be pointed down at the ground when they're not being used, so that should prevent dust from collecting on them at night.

But 4 other cameras are located just under the solar panels, and they don't move. So you're right, they will collect dust over time. But we've done studies to see how bad the dust is likely to get, and we think we'll still be able to see well enough, even if dust collects for the 3 months of operation.

But people are looking for good ideas at how to keep the dust off, not only the cameras but also the solar panels. Do you have any suggestions?

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
Will the rover survive on the planet Mercury?

Answer:
These robots were specially designed for Mars, so I don't think they would last too long on Mercury. Mercury is much closer to the Sun than Mars, so the daytime temperatures are much hotter; hundreds of degrees hotter. That would heat up the electronics so much things would probably break pretty quickly.

And ironically, if we were to go to the night side of Mercury, we woultn'y have any sunlight to power the rover. So no, I doubt this rover would do very well on Mercury.

I'm sure we could come up with something that work though, if we decided to go there.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
How many parts do the rovers have?
(Taylor)

Answer:
Wow that is a good question I don't think anyone has really counted all the parts but it would certainly be millions.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
How many rovers are you sending?(stephan)

Answer:
Hi Stephan,
We are sending two rovers the size of go-carts. We don't have names for them yet...

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why does the rover have 4 wheels when it lands and then two more fold down to make six.

Nicole age 8

Answer:
Hi Nicole,

Our rovers are designed to have 6 wheels, so they can climb over all sorts of rocks when the robot lands on Mars. But the robot's so big, and the spaceship around it is so small, that the front two wheels had to be "stowed away" (kind of like carry-on luggage) to make the trip. But once it arrives at Mars, the front two wheels are locked in place, so the robot can drive with all 6 wheels.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Question:
What time will the Rover land?

Answer:
The first rover is scheduled to land January 4, 2004 in the morning.

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
How long will it take for the Rover to land? (Paxton)

Answer:
It will take about 7 months to get to Mars after launch from Earth.

Once it gets to Mars, it will take about 15 minutes for the rover to be on the surface. After touchdown, it will be another 90 minutes or so before the rover has its solar arrays deployed.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What will happen if the robotic car does not work once it lands on Mars?

Answer:
That would be bad.

Depending on what is broken on the rover, we may still be able to take some pictures, do some science and talk with Earth.

If it is totally broken, then we are hoping our second rover will still work.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What are the rover's made of?

Answer:
They are made of many different materials.

They are made of the same types of materials found everyday here on Earth in computers, automobiles, solar panels, mylar balloons, bicycles, tv sets, and even camping equipment.

That shouldn't be surprising though, since many of the materials that we see everyday came from efforts related to space exploration.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why dose it not hurt the Rover when it lands with sell matl . Hannah

Answer:
Hello Hannah,

If the rover doesn't slow down enough, it can be hurt when it lands.

We do several things to help it slow down.

First, we use a parachute to slow down.

Then, right before it hits the surface, we fire retro-rockets to slow down even more.

Finally, we inflate big airbags after the retro-rockets are done and we bounce and roll to a stop.

Good question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What will happen if the robotic car does not work once it lands on Mars?

Answer:
That would be bad.

Depending on what is broken on the rover, we may still be able to take some pictures, do some science and talk with Earth.

If it is totally broken, then we are hoping our second rover will still work.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How strong is the Rover?(David)

Answer:
Hi David,
The rovers are actually pretty strong. They are designed to not break while landing (they will hit the ground at about 27 mph- protected by airbag) or during a sandstorm (with winds that can reach 50 mph)!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Will it be hard to land on mars?

Answer:
We have landed on Mars several times before and it is always tricky. We picked two spots that are safe enough (not too many canyons or mountains) but still geologically interesting enough to carry out science missions. The way we'll land is basically falling, opening up huge airbag ballons and bouncing till we stop!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Careers in Space Science

Question:
What do Engineers do in a regular day?

Valeria age 8

Answer:
Good question Valeria!

There are many different types of engineers. Where I work the engineers design, build, test and operate instruments that get launched on spacecraft to Mars. They spend a lot of time with equipment used to test the Mars instruments. They put the instruments on a special table that shakes the instruments in order to simulate a rocket launch. Then they put the instruments in a chamber and pump all of the air out and make it very cold in order to simulate space. Using computers they are able to find any problems that exist and then they fix those problems before they put everything on the rocket.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Careers in Robotics

Question:
What does it take to be a robotic technitian, and is the pay good? Is it interesting working in that field, have you ever built a robot?

Answer:
Do you like working with electronics? Do you like fixing things? Then you might like to work with robots. It's a lot of fun building something, and then watching that creation move around on its own.

The pay can be good if you find the right job, but it does require you to work a lot of hours. It's hard enough fixing things that *don't* move around by themselves.

I've been lucky enough to have worked on several robots; one designed for the Moon http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~lri/nav97.html, one that was sent to Chernobyl http://robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/people/mwm/pioneer/homepage.html, practise or "prototype" Mars rovers http://robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/tasks/lrsr/homepage.html and now the next NASA Mars robot . But I actually work mostly with the programs that control them, I leave it up to my electronics friends to put the pieces together and keep them working.

If you think you'd like to try building a robot, see if your school or high school is involved with the US FIRST program: http://www.usfirst.org/

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Earth-Mars Comparisons

Question:
How much bigger is the Earth than Mars. sincerly, Sheldon G.

Answer:
Mars has half of the diameter of the Earth, 38% of the surface gravity of the Earth (so things weigh much less), and about 10% of the atmosphere of the Earth.

Still, since Mars has no oceans, there is as much land area on the surface of Mars as there is on the Earth, even though the total surface area of the Earth is much more, since the Earth is basically a sphere that's twice as big as Mars in diameter.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
How much bigger is the Earth than Mars.
sincerly,
Sheldon G.

Answer:
Mars has an average diameter of 6,780 kilometers; that's about half the size of Earth but twice the size of Earth's moon.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
How much could you say, that Earth and Mars are alike and different?

Answer:
Good question- Mars and Earth are very similar in many ways, but different in just as many. I?ll try to summarize some of the major points here, but you are more then welcome to visit a web page I put together that deals with this very question for more information:

http://www.public.asu.edu/~tgraff/EarthMars/EarthMars_index.html

Similarities:
 • Mars and Earth are both terrestrial planets, meaning that are made up of solid rock (unlike planets like Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus).
 • Mars and Earth both have volcanoes and landforms created by lava.
 • Like Earth?s river systems Mars has features may have once been cut by water flowing on the surface.
 • Both planets have polar caps.
 • They both have layered rocks and large canyons (like in the Grand Canyon).
 • Mars and Earth both have meteorite impacts, although Mars has many more preserved that we view today.
 • Both planets also have moons. Mars has two!

Differences:
 • Mars is smaller then Earth, and further from the sun.
 • The climate of Mars is very cooled and dry today, unlike Earth.
 • Earth is covered by almost 70% water. Mars has no oceans or lakes today, but we think it may have in the past.
 • Mars does things at a grand scale. The biggest volcano on Mars is the entire size of the state of Arizona. And the biggest canyon would stretch across the United States.
 • Earth still has active volcanoes; Mars did in the past but doesn?t look that way today.

Hope that helps and stay tuned in to Mars exploration as we learn more from future missions!

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mossbaeur Team
Arizona State University

Question:
How can you tell how a rock is made from earth? How can you tell if it was made by water, wind, or something else? Thanks Kayla

Answer:
Good question Kayla!

Rocks are either igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. Each rock is made up of minerals. You can learn a lot about what created a rock by looking at the rock (does it have big crystals, it is really hard or soft, what color is it, is it magnetic?) . It is also helpful to know where the rock came from (did you find it near a volcano?). All of this information can help you figure out how the rock was made.

Question:
How many miles away is Mars from Earth ? How are the Safety Parachutes made and what are they made of ?

Answer:
Mars distance from Earth varies throughout the year but it is 1.5 time farther from the sun than Earth. Anywhere from 206 Million miles to 249 million miles. The safety parachute is made and tested over and over until we have a working parachute that works.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
What does the earth and atmosphere look like from space?

Answer:
The earth from space looks like a big blue ball with brown and green patches that are the rocks and plants and white patches that are clouds and snow. The atmosphere when seen along the edge of earth is just a thin blanket of clouds and air.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Future Mission to Mars

Question:
What is the likelihood of a return sample mission from Mars in the near future... and if so, where would the targeted landing site be???

Max

Answer:
It depends on what you mean by near future. It may be possible that we could see a sample return mission on the surface of Mars in the 10-15 year timeframe. Choosing a landing site is a very difficult job. The two landing sites that our rovers are landing at were culled down from hundreds over a period of a few years. Certainly, by the time we send a sample return mission to the surface, we'll have a lot more data from other orbiter missions, so we'll have to take all of that into account.

We could actually get samples of dust back from Mars within 5-7 years, though. NASA has a program called the Mars Scout missions. There are four possible scout missions for the folks at NASA to choose from right now, and one of them involves flying a bullet-shaped spacecraft through the atmosphere of Mars to collect dust and bring it back to Earth. Knowing what the martian dust is made of is very important because it covers so much of the planet and it is all the same. There should be a decision on which scout mission will be chosen sometime this summer.

Great quesion!
Tim

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is there a possible way I can go on Mars, first young student to set foot on Mars?

Christa

Answer:
Good question! It's probably going to be quite a few years before people go to Mars. So the first humans to set foot on Mars aren't people who are my age... we'll be too old when it happens. The first people to set foot on Mars will probably be people who are students right now. With lots of work and success in subjects like math, science, and engineering, your chances may be pretty good.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Is there going to be a trip to Mars soon?

Patrick Bradshaw- South Park Middle School- South Park, PA

Answer:
Definitely! There are two rovers that will be launched to Mars on June 5th and June 25th of this year. They will arrive at Mars just after new years day this year, and should operate on the surface for about 90 days each. These are exciting missions, that will far surpass the science capabilities that the Sojourner rover had several years ago. Watch the new for them, ro search the web for the Athena Project. I will be participating in the missions studying the atmosphere.... I'm excited about them, as should all of us be.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
If domed cities are built on Mars, what do you think the domes will be made of?

Answer:
Good question. If you were building domes on Earth, you'd probably make the framework out of aluminum.

There's a big question, though about how you'd build anything on Mars: Would you take the materials with you from Earth, or would you "live off the land" and use materials you found on Mars?

If you brought it with you, you'd need to use extremely lightweight materials... perhaps something like the graphite-epoxy composite materials that parts of the rovers are made of. But if you got your materials on Mars, you'd be limited to whatever you could extract from the martian rocks... like maybe steel.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Is there any chance of man going to Mars in the next 10, 20, or 30 years? If so, would the pupose be for exploration, or possible inhabitation of the planet?

Answer:
I think in 10 years is impossible, 20 years is unlikely, and 30 years is possible, but up to us as a country to place it as a high priority (like the moon landings of the 60's were). Without the goal of going to Mars as a high priority, we'll never be able to achieve it. Even with the goal set as a national priority, the technical achievement is very significant. Much harder than landing on the moon. When we do go to Mars, I think it will be for exploration first. I suspect that inhabitation of Mars is so much more difficult than just exploring it, that that will take many, many years before we will consider that level of endeavor.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Can you live on mars?

Answer:
Yes, if you have the right equipment.

First you need to have a pressurized home to live in, a way to generate clean air and to get rid of bad air, a way to grow food and to generate clean water, and a way to process waste.

It would be nice to be able to call Earth, so a telecommunication system (sort of like a phone) would be necessary. It would also be nice to have some science instruments to study Mars, some books, a few movies and some music. Maybe even a few video games and some exercise equipment to play outside!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
When will astronauts be going?

Answer:
No one is certain when astronauts will go to Mars. In recent years there has been a desire to see it happen by July 20, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first humans on the Moon. But, I suspect it will take longer. We currently have the technology to do it, but it would be very expensive. If the government were to pay for a manned mission to Mars the cost would most likely be passed on to the tax payers. In years to come if technology continues ot advance and costs continue to drop a manned mission to Mars may be more likely.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Future Missions

Question:
What is the next mission after this one?

Answer:
It's one called the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, launching in 2005. MRO will orbit Mars for several years, looking at it with more sophisticated instruments than have ever been sent to Mars before. One of the instruments on it is a camera so powerful that we'll be able to actually see the rovers from orbit.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Is anyone planning a mission to go to Pluto?

Answer:
Actually, Pluto is so far away that there really hasn't been a mission to it yet, since it is so hard to get to. It only takes about 6 months when the timing is right to send a mission to Mars, but it could take 6 years to reach Pluto.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Why would humans consider establishing colonies on Mars?

Katie

Answer:
Hi Katie,

Colonies on Mars would allow us to do more sophisticated studies of that planet which would help us to better understand our solar system, the Earth and possibilities of life.

There are other results as well, such as advancement of technologies (which can lead to "spin-off" products like cell phones and CD players)and such as exciting our spirit of exploration, of learning new things and of finding new questions to ask.

Thanks for your question.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Will people ever actually get walk on the planet mars?

Answer:
I don't know.

It depends on whether the American people want us to go to Mars and on whether they are willing to spend the money it will take to get there.

We are able to do it with our technological abilities.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
I would like to know if thereís a possibility I could step on Mars as a student?

Christa

Answer:
Yes. But not right away. Right now, we don't have the technical capability to send people to Mars. In fact, it is pretty challenging for us to send robotic landers and rovers there, let alone keeping a person alive and bringing them back to earth. Nevertheless, there willcome a time when robotic rovers won't be able to do what we'd like to do at Mars, and a scientist/astronaut will have to go there. I don't know when that time will come, but it will likely be at least 20 years away. Most of you students will be prime age to be astronauts in about that time.... of course, by then, you wouldn't still be a school student, but you would be a student of nature... studying what there is to see on Mars, and comparing it with your experiences on Earth... How does it feel to walk in 1/3 the gravity? What does the sky look like? The martian day is pretty similar to the earth... what does the wind feel like? Is a dust storm scary? Is there lightning? These are just the most basic things that you would investigate...

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
What is the next mission after this one?

Answer:
That is a tough question!

NASA has dozens of missions in various phases of development. Some are still being thought about (called conceptual), some are being designed, some are being built, some are ready for launch.

Take a look at the NASA website for good information on this: www.nasa.gov

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Will people ever actually get walk on the planet mars?

Answer:
I sure hope so! With our current technology, it would take a person 2 years or more to travel to Mars and back to Earth, and that is much longer than anyone has ever been in space before. Even though many astronauts have been into orbit, they only stay a few months at the longest.

People are studying ways to help people make the trip and return safely, but we still have a long way to go. It probably won't happen this decade, but in the next 20-30 years, who knows what we can accomplish?

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Will there be any manned missions to Mars in the future? If there are when?

Answer:
Exploring Mars is difficult and expensive. We probably won't send humans for another 20 to 30 years. Until then, there will be many robotic explorers sent to Mars to learn more about it.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Will there ever be another launching to Mars soon in the future if everything comes out well through the other launcings to different moons?

Answer:
We will be launching two rovers to Mars in June and then an orbiter in 2005. There is another rover mission being planned for 2009. NASA is very interested in exploring Mars and will continue as long as there is enough interest and money to do so.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Can you live on mars?

Answer:
The Martian environment is very harsh. Its atmosphere is too thin to breath and its temperatures get much colder than even the coldest places on Earth. Humans could live there but would have to use spacesuits to go outside and would have to build habitats to live in.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Will people ever actually get walk on the planet mars?

Answer:
The plan is to eventually get people on Mars. We're first sending robots to find out as much as we can and plan everything we will need for humans when we are ready to send them.

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Do you think that someday people could live on Mars?

Answer:
The Martian environment is very harsh. Its atmosphere is too thin to breath and its temperatures get much colder than even the coldest places on Earth. Humans could live there but would have to use spacesuits to go outside and would have to build habitats to live in.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Could people live on Mars?

Answer:
The Martian environment is very harsh. Its atmosphere is too thin to breath and its temperatures get much colder than even the coldest places on Earth. Humans could live there but would have to use spacesuits to go outside and would have to build habitats to live in.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Getting to Mars

Question:
How long do you think it takes to travel Mars.

Answer:
It depends on the position of Earth relative to Mars but for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission this will be approximately 7 months.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Landing on Mars

Question:
How did you come up with the concept of using kevler airbags, to slow the descent of the rovers?

Xavier Rios,and Magally Roman, from Ames Middle School

Answer:
This was a design that was inherited from Mars Pathfinder and was a ground breaking technology which carried and successfuly landed the small rover called Sojourner on July 4th 1997.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Life on Mars

Question:
Do you think there is life on Mars?

Answer:
Hi Christa,

The atmosphere on Mars is too thin and contains too much carbon dioxide to support human life. It is very cold on Mars and there is no liquid water on the surface. It is an extremely harsh environment for humans. They could not live on Mars without life support equipment.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
When would humans be able to colonize Mars, and what impact would colonization have on the environment of Mars?

Sylvia

Answer:
Our exploration of Mars is a slow and expensive process. We have been using robotic missions to explore Mars since the 1960s. We probably will not send humans to Mars for another 20 years. Colonization of Mars likely would not happen for many decades after that. Remember, we sent humans to the Moon starting in 1969 and we still haven't colonized the Moon. I would expect that any colonization of Mars would be similar to that of Antarctica, where humans have set up research outposts. There is an effort to minimize the impact on the Antarctic environment so that scientific investigations can be conducted. I think any Mars outposts would follow a similar strategy.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is there any signs of alien life forms on Mars?

Answer:
Unlike in the movies, where alien life forms take to shape of wierd looking creatures, alien life to NASA simply means life not from Earth. It can be a simple as bateria! So far none has yet been found, but that's what we're going to Mars to look for. One of the goals of the upcoming Mars Exploration Rover mission is to look for liquid water. Where there's water, there may be life!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Was there ever life on Mars? What types of evidence has been found? Is it one species or a lot of different on like on planet Earth?

Answer:
We don't know if there was ever life on Mars. It seems like a good possibility, but so far no conclusive evidence for martian life has ever been found. The search for evidence is a big part of what NASA's Mars program is all about.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
I read in a book that 2 to 3 billion years ago mars was mostly covered by water like earth. Is that true and if it is true why is there no life in Mars

Answer:
We're pretty sure that Mars once had water on it. There are several indicators still visible on the surface of mars that make us think this. There are apparent river beds, with streamlined islands in them. Some meteor impact craters have aprons around them that look like the material flowed like mud rather than dry soil. There may even be lake deposits in some craters, and over a large portion of the northern hemisphere. However, we're not totally sure that the water that was on Mars was there for very long, like it has been on earth. One theory suggests that perhaps the water was ephemeral, being driven out of ground ice only after LARGE impacts early in Mars history. It may have been wet there for only a few hundred years after these impacts, then the water froze to ice, and eventually might have sublimed back into the soil.... remember this is just a theory... there are many others. To decide among these theories is why we send missions to Mars.

Whether there is life on Mars or not is not really yet known. As of yet, we have no indication that there is life there. The Viking Landers in the late 1970's searched for biological reactions taking place and didn't see any. Perhaps they didn't look in the right place, or with the right techniques. Maybe life doesn't currently exist on Mars but maybe it once did... we don't know yet. It certaily is true that to our understanding, water is essential for life. That si one of the main reasons that NASA is focussing attention on water on Mars...

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
I remember hearing about a meteor rock... did we find evidence of life on Mars from this meteor rock?

Anna

Answer:
Good Question! The meteorite you are refering to is known as ALH84007. Chemical analysis of this particular meteorite did provide evidence that it was indeed from Mars. When scientists performed further microscopic and chemical tests on the meteorite, some believed that there was evidence of former life. Others disagreed. This controversy still continues. This discovery is one reason why scientists wanted to return to Mars with a "robotic geologist" to look for further information.

Expert:
Diane Bollen
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Cornell University

Question:
Do you think there has ever been life on Mars?

Answer:
I don't know if there has ever been life on Mars.

You have the same question as some of our top scientists and engineers. Answering that question is one of the reasons we are sending spacecraft to Mars.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
We did research on abiogenic mangetites to prove evidence of life on Mars, and I wanted to know... how can we differntiate biogenic magentites from abiogenic magnetites by using remote sensing?

Tenzin

Answer:
Tenzin,
Unfortunately, we cannot differentiate biogenic and abiogenic magnetite using remote sensing. We really need to have samples returned to Earth, send an advanced robotic experiment, or get humans to Mars in order to evaluate any magnetite we find there. With remote sensing we can detect where magnetite occurs, but we cannot do more than that with current technologies.

Expert:
Amy Knudson
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is there a possibility that about 50 years from now a form of life could live on mars?

Alfredo Perez
South Gate, California

Answer:
Absolutely! The most likely form of life to exist on Mars 50 years from now, I think, is humans. We're exploring Mars with robots today, but in the years ahead, it's very likely that humans will go to Mars to explore. In fact, the first people who will explore Mars are probably students today.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
First a comment: as a teacher I love how interesting and fun Science is made for kids. Keep it up! Also, the students are watching the show and asking...If life will be discovered soon?-Miami Park Elementary,FL

Answer:
This is a very good question and the Mars Exploration Rovers will provide details and clues to provide answers to questions like these and others such as where did all the water go?

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
I was wondering what scientists were looking for in meteor rocks to prove there was life on Mars?

Anna

Answer:
Hi Anna,
First you have to understand that NASA has found meteors on the Earth that we know originally came from Mars. The reason we know they came from Mars is because in the 1970's we sent to Mars two spacecraft called Viking 1 and 2. These landers analyzed the atmosphere and found that there are differences in the gases of Mars air, that makes it uniquely different from ours. The differences are complicated, and are called the isotope ratios for the different gases. But the result is simple, if we find the same ratios in something like a meteorite, we know it came from Mars. The way a meteor gets from Mars to the Earth is that occassionaly a giant asteroid impact happens there, and those explosions cause huge amounts of stuff to get blown back into space. Once it is back into space, many millions of years may go by, but some of it comes to the Earth as individual meteors. So far we've found about 12 meteorites from Mars on Earth. By looking deep inside these pieces of rock, scientists can do chemical and microscopic analyses to look for the distinct and unique signs that may indicate that microscopic life was once on Mars. These signs of possible past life are things like organic (carbon containing) compounds, tiny fossils, or alterations in the rocks structure that would be very difficult to explain unless something alive were to have done it.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Has anyone tryed to live in Mars?

Answer:
Not currently but this mission as well as future Mars missions will provide the necessary steps to safely house future explorers.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
Have you ever seen any kind of life on Mars?

Answer:
We are eagerly looking for signs of life on Mars but have not yet found any. Fossils will be something we will look for using robotic explorers, and someday, with humans. It would be very exciting to find any evidence of life on Mars.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Has there ever been life on Mars.

Answer:
We are eagerly looking for signs of life on Mars but have not yet found any. Fossils will be something we will look for using robotic explorers, and someday, with humans. It would be very exciting to discover even simple life forms on Mars.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How is life on mars different from here on earth.

Answer:
We have not yet found life on Mars. It would be very difficult to live there. Its atmosphere is too thin to breath and its temperatures get much colder than even the coldest places on Earth.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Hi,
My name is Dylan Linet. I am looking for a mentor with knowladge on the subject of life on mars. If one of your experts would like to offer to help, I would need their e-mail adress so I could Mail them occasional questions and project ideas.
Thanks!
Dylan

Answer:
Hello Dylan. We are eagerly looking for signs of life on Mars but have not yet found any. Fossils will be something we will look for using robotic explorers, and someday, with humans. It would be very exciting to discover any evidence for life on Mars. If you are interested in this subject, check out the NASA Astrobiology website at: nai.arc.nasa.gov.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
My group was studying polar phytoplankton, and I wanted to know if those organisms would be able to thrive in the sub-polar regions of Mars?

Katushka

Answer:
A lot of research is being conducted to answer this and similar questions regarding life on Mars. Extremophiles, as they are called on Earth, can live in some pretty bizarre places adapting to their surroundings. So it is indeed possible that organisms may be able to survive and thrive in the current environment near surface Mars. The search is on. Your research may help answer some of questions, which may help solve the mystery of Martian life. Stay tunes to future mission to Mars that will explore this very question.

Trevor Graff

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mossbaeur Team
Arizona State University

Question:
Has there ever been life on Mars.

Answer:
That is a good question!

We are currently trying to discover that in our missions to Mars.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Is there any evidence that there ever was life on Mars? Fossils?? Mrs. Pisano's Third Grade Class Gulf Elementary School, Cape Coral, FL

Answer:
We have not found any evidence of life yet.

We are still looking though!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Mars, the Planet

Question:
Why is Mars red?And why can't anyone live on mars? Please answer my question.

Answer:
Mars is red because that is the color of the soil. The soil is rich in iron oxides. If you have seen something rust on earth, you will notice that it too is red. Just imagine a planet covered in rust. That would be sort of like Mars.

People cannot live on Mars because we currently cannot send people there on a spacecraft. If we ever do commit to having people there, then we will build a spaceship which can send people there and we will send things which will help them set up a base with things that will help them live.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Is the dust blown by a dust storm on Mars enough to bury you?

Answer:
Hi Gabriel,
Mars does have "dust storms", some that last for months and cover much of the planet, but You would have to stay in one place for quite a long time to actually be buried in dust. Mars' atmosphere is very thin and as a result can't lay down a very thick layer of dust at one time. When we look at pictures of Mars after a global dust storm, some dust is left behind, but not enough to fill craters or bury a spacecraft or person.

Expert:
Steve Collins
ACS Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
When was Mars found?

Answer:
The answer to that question is lost in the mists of time. Mars is one of the brightest objects in the night sky, and it has been known since humans first looked up at the heavens.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
How would the lack of gravity affect humans on Mars?

Kathryn

Answer:
It has been found that humans in space lose bone mass at a rate of 1% per month in low gravity, and that muscles atrophy (weaken) throughout the body while in space, even the heart, which doesn't have to work as hard to circulate blood in low gravity.

This will be somewhat less of a concern on Mars itself since there is substantial surface gravity there, about 38% of Earth surface gravity, but it not clear whether humans will be able to adapt to Mars surface gravity unaided or whether new technology is required to help maintain proper bodily health.

There is an interesting article on the European Space Agency website about health and low gravity here:

http://www.esa.int/export/esaHS/ESA5361VMOC_future_0.html

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
If you were standing on the equator of Mars, and you looked up into the night sky, what moon would rise first and in what direction would you see it rise?

Answer:
Phobos is the larger of Mars' satellites and is closest to Mars. It rotates around the planet every 7hours and 40 minutes (about three times a day!) Because Phobos rotates faster than Mars, it is seen to rise in the west and set in the east. Deimos, the smaller moonis much farther away and rotates approximately every 30 hours. So if you were standing out at night on Mars, depending on the time of year you might see Phobos rise twice in the west and not see Deimos rise at all that nigth! But if you timed it right, you might see Deimos rise in the east and if you waited up all night you would see Phobos rise and set twice from west to east while Deimos was still up!

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Why is Mars red? And has there ever been life on Mars or could there possibly be life on mars in the future?

Answer:
Mars is red because that is the color of the soil. The soil is rich in iron oxides. If you have seen something rust on earth, you will notice that it too is red. Just imagine a planet covered in rust. That would be sort of like Mars.

People cannot live on Mars because we currently cannot send people there on a spacecraft. If we ever do commit to having people there, then we will build a spaceship which can send people there and we will send things which will help them set up a base with things that will help them live.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why and when did the volcanoes become extenct on Mars?

Max

Answer:
Max,
The only way for us to know how old the volcanoes are on Mars by counting how many impact craters have formed on the volcano. The more craters, the older the volcano. However, we have to make educated guesses about how many meteorites hit the planet in a given time period. We understand the relative ages of features on Mars very well (what stuff is the oldest, which is the youngest), but it is very hard to assign dates to them. Olympus Mons and the Tharsis region volcanoes are the youngest on Mars. Estimates of their last eruptions range from 100 Million years ago (the end of the Mesozoic era when there were dinosaurs on Earth) or up to 2.7 Billion years ago (before there was any life on Earth, almost half the age of the Earth ago).

Mars is a fairly small planet, about 1/3 the diameter of the Earth. Because it is smaller it had less internal heat and also loses heat much more rapidly than the Earth. We think that Mars has lost most of its internal heat and can no longer melt rocks to produce lava flows.

Expert:
Amy Knudson
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is the air on Mars good to breathe?

Answer:
The air on Mars is not good to breathe for people or animals. We need air that has a lot of Oxygen in it, like the air on Earth has. The air on Mars is very thin, it has the same pressure that the air 20 miles up above the ground has on Earth where no people or animals can live. Also, the air on Mars is really cold and dry; a typical temperature during the day on Mars would be 30 degrees below zero even in summer, and a typical temperature at night would be 100 degrees below zero. The air on Mars is mostly Carbon Dioxide, which is the right kind of air for plants though, since they breathe Carbon Dioxide, but because the air is so very cold and so dry, even plants couldn't live there.

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What would happen if you launched a rover into a dust storm on Mars?
Priscilla

Answer:
The Rovers are solar powered, with big wing like solar arrays on top of them. If we sent the rovers to Mars during one of the big dust storms, it couldn't make enough electricity to do much, like talk to us on the Earth or even drive around. So the rover would have to hibernate, sort of like a bear until the dust storm was over. When the dust storm was over it would be very important how much dust was left on the rover. If the solar panels were completely covered, then the rover wouldn't get enough power, and it would have to stay asleep till the dust blew away. If the solar arrays were mostly clear, then the rover could wake up and go on with its mission.

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How come you picked 2003 instead of another year (to launch)?
Adam

Answer:
This is a really good question, but the answer is kind of complicated. Earth and Mars both orbit the sun, but Mars is much farther away, so that while our year is 365 days long, the year on Mars is 687 days long. The best time for us to send spaceships to Mars is when they are just right in relation to each other for our rockets to fly out from the fast moving Earth to the slow moving Mars. This best time happens about every 26 months for us on Earth. The last time two times we sent Missions to Mars were in 2001 and in 1998, so we try to take advantage of these best launch opportunities every 2 years and 2 months. But there is one more thing that makes it even more complicated, the Earth and Mars do not have truly circular orbits around the Sun. In fact the orbit of Mars varies a lot in distance to the Sun during its own 687 day long year. Instead of a circle the orbits are called ellipses. As a result of that, these launch opportunities are sometimes much better than they usually are. These special opportunities are better because when our spacecraft is on Mars, the distance between the Earth and Mars will be even smaller than it usually is every 26 months. When the Earth is closer to Mars it is much easier for the people here to talk back and forth with the spacecraft which is many millions of miles away. So the year 2003 is one of the very best launch opportunities we've had in 20 years, so it made it a very good time to send 2 rovers to Mars. Because Mars will be closer than usual for our Mission, we will get even more wonderful pictures and scientific data than we usually would.

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What is the most interesting planet you have studied?

Answer:
Well, really the only planet that I've studied to any great degree is Mars, but they are all very interesting because they are so different. Mercury for instance doesn't really rotate on an axis, so there are no seasons...kind of like the moon. There is a light side and a dark side, and the dark side is always dark. Some people have even wondered whether there are any possibilities of finding surface ice on the dark side of Mercury, since it is always dark and therefore pretty cold, even though it is the closest planet to the Sun.

Still, Mars is wondrous. It has the largest known volcano, Olympus Mons, in the whole solar system. The canyon Valles Marineris on Mars is as long as North America is wide. Recently the Mars Odyssey orbiter found a lake of water under the surface of Mars' south polar ice cap. There are so many interesting things about exploring Mars still to find that I very much look forward to seeing what new things our future missions will find there.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Why is Mars red?
Gabriel

Answer:
Mars is red because its surface is covered mainly in iron-bearing rocks. These rocks have then combined with oxygen to form iron-oxides, which is an all-too-common mineral to us on earth, known as rust. Rust is reddish, both on earth and Mars. While earth has alot of water and plants to add other colors to it, Mars is mostly barren rocks, and almost all of those are iron-oxide bearing basalt. Hence, when we look at the planet, it looks red... like the rusted out toyota Corolla I used to drive around until last winter....

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Did Mars once have oceans?

Max

Answer:
Hello Max, That is a very interesting question. One that Mars scientists are spending a lot of time on these days. It is very clear from the pictures we have of Mars' surface that there was once liquid water flowing on there. We can see river beds and features that were clearly cut by erosion.

The northern hemisphere of mars is very very flat, as if it might have once been an ocean where sediments were left behind. Close up pictures of the edges of this big northern basin seem to show evidence of ancient "shorelines" as if this big northern sea slowly shrunk, leaving behind "bathtub rings" as it went. I don't think scientists are *sure* if there was once an Ocean on Mars, but there seems to be growing evidence that perhaps there was. One of the really cool things about science is how we can ask ourselves a question like this and think of some experiments we can do, or observations we can make to figure out the answer. I bet we'll know the answer to this for sure in the next couple of years. Stay tuned!

Expert:
Steve Collins
ACS Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Itís been reported that there was once liquid water on this planet, where has it gone?

Jacqui

Answer:
Great question, Jacqui,
There is certainly a lot of evidence that there was once liquid water on Mars. There are valley networks in the southern hemisphere, huge catastropic outflow channels in the north, and near the equator there are large amounts of a mineral called hematite which usually forms in water. One of the main questions Mars investigators have is "where has all the water gone?" Well, there are a few possibilities. First, it could be underground. The Gamma Ray Specrometer on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has been detecting huge amounts of hydrogen about a meter (3 feet) below the surface of the planet. If you make the pretty good assumption that all of that hydrogen is in water, then that adds up to a lot of water. A radar mission that the European Space Agency is flying will look for water even deeper below the surface.

Another possibility is that a lot of the water was lost to space. Mars has only one-third the gravity of Earth, so it is harder for Mars to retain an atmosphere. It is possible that as Mars started to lose its atmosphere billions of years ago, water was evaporated or sublimated (went directly from solid to gas) into the atmosphere and then lost.

Expert:
Tim Glotch Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Why is Mars red?

Max

Answer:
Great Question, Max. Mars is red, in much the same manner that cars rust. The element iron (Fe) has a few states at which it can exist. One of these states that iron can take is known as oxidized (due to the interaction of oxygen). When this happens the iron appears red to us because of the different way it now absorbs light. This processes of oxidization has occurred on Mars turning the rocks (which contain iron) red.

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University
Tempe Arizona

Question:
If most of the H on Mars is in the form of water ice, why is there so little O in the atmosphere in the atmosphere and on the surface?

Gabriel

Answer:
Hi Gabriel,
You're right, most of the hydrogen on Mars, either on the surface or just below, is in the form of water ice. Liquid water isn't stable at those pressures and temperatures. NASA has discovered that there is quite a bit of ice at least a meter down into the soil at the poles. In addition, some of the frost in the polar caps is water ice, and finally there are traces of water vapor in the atmosphere. The reason that there is so little Oxygen in the atmosphere is because oxygen is such a reactive element, that it has almost completely formed many different chemical compounds, such as water, but also is in the rocks and soil of the planet. On Earth, the oxygen in our atmosphere is due to the plant life that releases oxygen after it consumes carbon dioxide. In fact, Space Scientists know that one possible indicator of life elsewhere in the Universe would be to find lots of oxygen in the atmosphere of another planet.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Hello,
What is the pressure in Mars?
What is the composition of the atmosphere in Mars?
What is the solar radiation level in Mars?
What is the magnetic flux in the surface of the Mars?
Thanks,
guto

Answer:
Hello Guto,
The pressure on the surface of Mars is 100 times less than the pressure on Earth.
The atmosphere there is 95% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen, 1.6% Argon and much less of several other gases. Oxygen is only 0.13% there. It is about 20% on Earth.
The solar flux is about 43% of that at Earth.
The magnetic flux at Mars is very low. One estimates says it is around 0.5 nanoTesla.
Good questions!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Did mars really contain water? Have you ever seen pictures of water, or were there craters where water may have been?

Answer:
Excellent question!

There is actually water on Mars today. We see some frozen water in the polar caps and water vapor clouds in the atmosphere. There is also evidence that water has flowed on the Martian surface some time in the past. There are channels and gullies as well as some "splotch" craters where the crater ejecta has the look of splattered pancake batter.

Expert:
Laura Mehall
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
It seems that in the past Mars has been attracting a lot of attention. What makes it more important than other planets?

Jacqui

Answer:
Jacqui,
I wouldn't say Mars is really more important than other places, but it is very interesting and convenient. First, it it our closest neighbor in the Solar System (other than the moon), which makes it easier for us to go there and study than other farther away obejcts and planets. Second one of the main goals of NASA right now is to search for life elsewhere in the Solar System. We currently understand that life needs 3 things to survive: organics (like the carbon that helps make up our bodies), energy (such as heat or sunlight) and most importantly water. There are currently three object in our Solar Systme that meet these requirements: Earth (obviously), Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and Mars. Since Mars is close and seems to have evidence for water once on its surface it seem a good place to look for past life even if life can no longer exsist there now. So that is why it is receiving so much attention. I hope this helps!

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Why is Mars named the red planet?

Answer:
Because it's red! We think the reason that it's red is that the surface is rich in iron oxide minerals... minerals very much like rust. These may have formed when iron-rich rocks "weathered", maybe by interacting with liquid water.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Why is Mars named the red planet?

Answer:
It turns out that most of the rocks on Mars surface have alot of Iron in them. They are mostly basalt, like the rocks that are extruded out of the Hawaiian volcanos. The iron in the rocks has been exposed to enough oxygen to oxidize in to iron oxides, which are basically the rust that you see on old metal parts left outside... so bottom line: Mars is red because it has rust in its rocks, and hence is known as the red planet.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Why is Mars named the red planet?

Answer:
On Mars there is a lot of iron oxide (rust) on the surface and in the air (in the form of dust) that gives it its red appearance when viewed from Earth. That is why it is called the red planet.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Is it possible that the dented summits of mounds on the photo of Acedalia Planinita are caused by sand buildup around small meteorites?

Gabriel

Answer:
Gabriel,
I'm not sure which picture you are referring to, but I found one that we released on the 4th of April from Acidalia Planitia that might be the one you are asking about. I will use that picture to answer your question. Your idea is a good one, and is similar to the geologic story that I will tell, but I?ve filled in some of the details. These little dented hills can tell you a lot about the processes and materials in this area! The dents on the top of the hills are most likely old impact craters. However, normally you don?t find them just on the tops of little hills. My interpretation of these small features is that they are old craters that were created in loosely consolidated dusty or sandy material. The force of the impacts compacted the loose materials beneath the impact craters. Since then, there has been some erosional process going on ? most likely winds blowing the loose materials away. The erosion could not remove the compacted materials below the craters and left them behind as all the other material was removed, which produced the little hills.

Expert:
Amy Knudson
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Iíve always known that Mars has large volcanoes, and I would like to know, what implications do the volcanoes have on the solar system?

Jermaine

Answer:
Hi Jermaine,

The impact of volcanoes in our solar system tends to be limited to the area around the volcanic body.

On Earth, with its heavy atmosphere, the volcanic activity affects the planet within our atmosphere.

On Io, a large, almost atmosphere-less moon of Jupiter, some of the contents of the eruption are swept into a plasma torus between the Io and Jupiter.

Good question.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why is Mars red? And has there ever been life on Mars or could there possibly be life on mars in the future?

Answer:
Mars is red because it has iron oxide minerals on its surface... very much like rust. These minerals may have formed by the "weathering" of iron-rich rocks.

We don't know if there has ever been life on Mars... that's one of the things NASA is trying to find out with its Mars missions. There definitely could be life on Mars in the future, when humans go there.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Why is Mars red?

Answer:
Actually, at one point in the past few years scientists have argued that Mars is really a butterscotch color rather than red. However, the reason behind the pigment is the same. Mars has a lot of iron in it, and much of it has been oxidized. Oxidized iron is commonly called hematite. When hematite forms on our iron tools, we call it rust. This oxidized iron causes the rusty color on Mars.

Expert:
Amy Knudson
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How is the climate of Mars different from Earthís?

Max

Answer:
Hi Max,
The climate of Mars is a lot different than the Earth's because of two main reasons. First, Mars is about 50% farther from the Sun than the Earth, which causes Mars to get only about half as much solar energy. Second, Mars is much smaller than the Earth, with only about 1/2 of our planets diameter. This smaller size causes Mars to have much less gravity at its surface, only about 3/8 as much. Together, these facts cause Mars to have a much thinner and colder atmosphere than does the Earth. The atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars is about 1/100 of that of the Earth. You would have to travel straight up 100,000 ft at the Earth to get to the same pressure as at the Mars surface. And whereas, the temperature on Earth varies between about +50 and -75 degree Celsius, the temperatures on Mars range from about 0 down to -150 degree Celsius. The most obvious other difference in climate is due to the enormous amount of water on the Earth's surface, with lots of clouds in the air and 71% of our surface covered with Oceans, we get lots of rain and snow. There are no Oceans on Mars right now, though there is evidence that a lot of water is frozen below the surface at the Poles of the planet. Mars does have thin and wispy clouds, but it's never like a cloudy day on Earth, and because of the temperatures, there is never any rain or other liquid water on Mars. The snow covered caps come about on Mars as the seasons come and go due to the build up of layer upon layer of frost, which is both water vapor and carbon dioxide frozen directly out of the Mars air.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Earth has magnetic poles: does Mars has anything in comparison?

Jacqui

Answer:
Hi Jacqui,

Mars does not have a significant magnetic field today, but it may have at some point in its history. Data from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show that some of the planet's oldest rocks formed in the presence of a strong magnetic field.

Expert:
Pamela R. Smith
Center for Radiophysics and Space Research
Cornell University

Question:
If humans lived on Mars, could they plant fruit or vegetables in the soil???

Katie

Answer:
Hi Katie,
Excellent question! From what little we know so far, the Martian soil may not have the necesary nutrients to support plants. The bigger problem is, how will you water it? So far we haven't found any water, but the upcoming rover mission will conduct experiments that will hopefully allow us to better answer your question. Stay tuned!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why is Mars red?

Answer:
The "red-ish" color is due to oxidized iron minerals(-just like rust!)

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Iíve heard that Mars will be closest to Earth this summer, and I would like to know if that was why the launches are set for May and June of this year?

Ayadoyle

Answer:
You are correct, Mars and the Earth will be closer together this summer than they have been for thousands of years. This makes it a great opportunity to send spacecraft there. It takes less time (about 6 months) and less fuel to get to Mars when it is so close.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How can one grow crops on Mars?

Answer:
The only way we could grow crops on Mars is to build a greenhouse. That way the air and water that plants need to grow could be controlled and the plants would be protected from the extremely cold nighttime temperatures and the harsh ultraviolet light from the Sun.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Did mars ever have rings? -Alyssa age 7

Answer:
Hi Alyssa,
That is a really good question. When our solar system was first formed billions of years ago, all of the planets were made by lots and lots of rocks swirling around each other and getting stuck to each other to make bigger, and bigger rocks. This is how the planets were made. It is possible that way back then, Mars had rings for a while, but if it did they didn't last, because Mars wasn't big enough, so they would get pulled down to the surface eventually. Until only 20 years ago, NASA thought that only Saturn had rings because we can all see them from the Earth. In fact even with a small telescope you can see the rings yourself. Recently, NASA has sent spacecraft out to other big planets like Saturn, and has found that they also have rings, but they are much smaller and thinner so they are harder to see unless you get close. That is why our spacecraft had to fly by them to find that out. So all of the planets that have rings include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These planets are called the gas giants, and they are many, many times bigger than the Earth and Mars. The reasons are complicated as to why they have the rings, but it is mostly because they have lots of little moons orbiting them, and the rings like to live between the little moons. Our Earth only has one moon, and these big planets have between 10 and 30 moons, though most of them are also really small, like the size of a city.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Since mars is really a yellowish brown why do they call it the red planet?

Gianmarco age 8

Answer:
Hi Gianmarco,
That is a good question. We know today that Mars has a mixture of colors on its surface like yellows, browns, reds, and even white at the polar caps. We know this because we have big telescopes that can look at Mars from the Earth, and also NASA has sent spacecraft to orbit Mars and to land on its surface. All of these things have given us great pictures, so we know what it really looks like up close. But in ancient times, a long time before telescopes and spaceships, people on Earth just looked up to the sky, and they thought Mars looked dark red. They thought Mars was the color of blood, and they named it for their mythical god of war, which the romans called Mars, and the Greeks called Ares.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How hot does it get on Mars ?(Katie)

Answer:
At the equator the high on the surface can reach 81 degrees Fahrenheit, while at night it gets, very, very cold...below 100 degrees is common.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
If humans lived on Mars, could they plant fruit or vegetables in the soil???

Katie

Answer:
Hi Katie,
Excellent question! From what little we know so far, the Martian soil may not have the necesary nutrients to support plants. The bigger problem is, how will you water it? So far we haven't found any water, but the upcoming rover mission will conduct experiments that will hopefully allow us to better answer your question. Stay tuned!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
Our class has been working and planning on a major project on the "Red Planet," what are the possibilities of humans living in Mars?

Answer:
It will be many decades, perhaps centuries, before humans live on Mars. We will probably see human explorers on Mars in 20 to 30 years, but it will be much longer before we set up a permanent outpost there. The environment is much more harsh than Antarctica and we only have had outposts there for about 50 years.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What are the rocks on mars like? (Chris)

Answer:
On Mars, the rocks are made out of the same minerals as those that come out of the Hawaiian volcanos... Basalt. They look rusty red, and are quite often covered with fine grained sand and dust. There are only a few places on the planet that we've found other types of rock, notably hematite in one spot.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Are there any hurricanes on Mars?

Jorge age 7

Answer:
Hi Jorge,
No there are no Hurricanes on Mars, because it is so cold and the air is so thin that it is not even possible to have liquid water. There is ice on Mars that is in the soil and the polar caps, and there is a little bit of water in the Mars air, but never any liquid water at the surface. In fact when it is really cold on Mars, like first thing in the morning, Mars has thin wispy clouds, but they never get thick enough to rain or snow. It is possible that a very long time ago, Mars was much warmer and wetter, and maybe at that time there were storms and hurricanes. That is such a good question, that many scientists and engineers on the Earth want to try and figure out the answer. So NASA builds telescopes to look at Mars, and spaceships to travel there and do experiments so that someday we will all know the answer.
-Randy

Expert:
Randel A. Lindemann
Lead Mechanical Engineer for the Rover
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
How hot does it get on Mars ?

Answer:
Mars is a very cold planet temperatures can drop as low as -128C (-199 F) during a polar night and as warm as 17C (63F) at the equator during midday at closest point in orbit to the Sun.

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
What is the color is it!

Answer:
That depends on where you go. Overall, Mars has a reddish hue that can best be described as "butterscotch." That's the color of dust that covers much of the surface. There are surfaces that have oxidized, though, and can be bright red or orange. On the other hand, there are very dark regions composed of volcanic rocks that are black or gray.

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Why is Mars red? And why can't anyone live on mars? Please answer my question.

Answer:
Mars has a reddish color because of a thin layer of iron-rich dust that covers its surface. People could someday live on Mars but they would need to where spacesuits outdoors and live in sealed habitats because the atmosphere is so thin.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What is the color is it!

Answer:
Mars has a rusty red color. In fact the red is from rust as the soil on Mars has a lot of iron. The current name for thrusty color is "butterscotch". I think that Mars is a little more red than butterscotch, but that is what most scientists agree on

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Does Mars have more craters than the moon?
Patrick age 8

Answer:
I don't know the exact numbers. Mars is bigger than the moon, so there is room for more craters, but on Mars there are volcanos and erosion that wipe out and cover over craters. The earth has probably been hit by meteorites almost as much as the moon, but most of the craters have been wiped out by erosion and geologic changes.

Expert:
Steve Collins
ACS Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Why is Mars red?And has there ever been life on ars or could there possibly be life on mars in the future?

Answer:
Mars has a reddish color because of a thin layer of iron-rich dust that covers its surface that is oxidized, sort of like rust. We don't yet know whether there is life on Mars, either in its past or present. This is one of the reasons we want to explore Mars. Some day there will be life on Mars, but it will be human explorers.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
How big are Mars' moons?
Christopher age 6

Answer:
They are both a couple of kilometers wide. The larger moon "Phobos" and the smaller moon "Deimos"

Expert:
Jose T. Guzman
Mars Exploration Rover Project
Avionics Systems Engineer / Integration & Test Team

Question:
Why is Mars red?And has there ever been life on ars or could there possibly be life on mars in the future?

Answer:
Mars has a reddish color because of a thin layer of iron-rich dust that covers its surface that is oxidized, sort of like rust. We don't yet know whether there is life on Mars, either in its past or present. This is one of the reasons we want to explore Mars. Some day there will be life on Mars, but it will be human explorers.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What would happen if a crater hit mars?

Answer:
Millions of meteors have hit Mars throughout its history and made the craters that we see covering its surface today. Many parts of Mars are as cratered as the Moon.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Are there any meteor showers in Msrs and if yes would the robot get damaged by it?
Lazaro Rodriguez
Palm Springs 3rd grade

Answer:
Great question Lazaro! There are meteor showers on Mars and since the atmosphere of Mars is a lot thinner than Earth's, watching one may be very dangerous. The falling meteors don't burn up as quickly and some cause "violent explosions" when they blow up in midair. The robots are expected, however, to not be in harms way.

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
What is Mars made of?
Stephanie

Answer:
Stephanie,
That's a great, but complicated question. The simple answer is that Mars is basically made up of the same stuff that Earth is. Both Mars and Earth have cores that are mostly metallic iron. Mars is thought to also have significant amounts of sulfer in its core too, though. On the surface, Mars is mostly two types of volcanic rocks--basalt and andesite. Basalt is the type of rock that forms from lava coming out of the volcanoes in Hawaii. Andesite is named after the Andes Mountains in South America. Mars is also covered by a LOT of dust. Right now, we're not sure what that dust is made of. It's one of the big mysteries of Mars research. Finally, there are also a lot of iron oxides (these are what make Mars red!) on Mars. Basically, Mars is covered in rust!

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Past Missions to Mars

Question:
As I know missions to Mars is risky, and so many fail, my question is why so many missions to Mars?

Ava

Answer:
Hi Ava,
Great question! Because we hope to one day send people to Mars, we have to plan ahead as much as possible and know as much as we can. We cannot be too careful. Orbiters are sent to study the atmosphere and look at the terrain to find the best landing spot. Robots are then sent to study ground and atmosphere again to do more detailed experiments. In the coming years we plan on sending more sophisticated orbiters and robots to follow this plan and get us ready for humans on Mars!

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
How many failures have there been in the past on the missions to mars?

Answer:
Here is a list of missions to Mars that failed to meet their intended goals:

Mariner 3 (USA), launched Nov 1964, Contact lost due to shroud failure soon after launch

Zond 2 (USSR), launched Nov 1964, Contact lost May 2, 1965

Zond 3 (USSR), launched July 1965, Contact lost soon after launch

Mariner 8 (USA), launched May 1971, launch failure

Mars 2 (USSR), landed on Mars in Eridiana on Nov 27, 1971, but no images ever received

Mars 3 (USSR), landed on Mars in Phaethontis, contact lost with lander 20 seconds after arrival

Mars 4 (USSR), launched July 1973, flight trajectory missed Mars, failed to reach orbit

Mars 5 (USSR), launched July 1973, contact lost after reaching Martian orbit

Mars 6 (USSR), landed on Mars in Erythraeum Dec 1973, contact lost during landing sequence

Mars 7 (USSR), launched Aug 1973, flight trajectory missed Mars, failed to reach orbit

Phobos-1 (USSR), launched July 1988, contact lost en route to Mars

Mars Observer (USA), launched Sept 1992, Contact lost en route to Mars

Mars 96 (Russia), launched Nov 1996, launch failure

Mars Polar Lander (USA), arrived at Mars Dec 3, 1999, failure during landing sequence

Mars Climate Orbiter (USA), launched Dec 1998, failed to reach Mars orbit

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Have any probes tested material from below the surface of Mars?

Gabriel

Answer:
Yes, the Viking landers both dug small trenches in the martian soil in the late 1970's. They then analyzed the soils mineralogically and also looked for biological reactions going on in them. They determined the soil was mainly basaltic, and that they saw no biological reactions going on. We also were able to dig a bit of soil using the Sojourner rover 6 years ago... 5 wheels were braked, and one was spun... kicking up fresh soil. We tried to do more digging and analyzing with the Mars Polar lander and the DS2 probes, but they all failed in 1999. The Mars Exploration Rovers being launched next month will both be able to drill a bit into fresh rock, and trench with their wheels... they will be exciting to watch after the next new years!

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Has man ever gone to mars?

Answer:
No, no one has ever been to Mars because it takes so long to travel there (6 months or more one way!). To keep a person alive in space for over a year is more than has ever been done.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
What other type of information have you learned from evidence found on Mars besides rocks found on Mars?

Ames Middle School

Cecilia Marchan

Answer:
Good question. We have learned a great deal about Mars besides the rock types. We know the composition of the Martian atmosphere and the type of climate. We also have learned a lot about meteorite impacts. The role of the large volcanoes and canyons on Mars has been studied in detail. As well as the processes and effects the water has played in the past and present. There is still much to learn, so stay tuned into Mars exploration!

Trevor Graff

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mossbaeur Team
Arizona State University

Robotics

Question:
Can a robot help people with homework or all of the other things that tv shows have about robots? do you sell them also? and have you ever built a robot? How big do robots get and are they dangerous?

Answer:
Right now most robots are only good at doing simple things. And homework can be tough!

Some companies sell robots for very specific jobs. There's a robot called "roomba" that will vacuum one room of your house for you, there are robots that can mow your lawn, and there are lots of toy robots too.

Robots can be as tiny as insects, or as big as trucks; one robot van drove itself across the US a few years ago http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/user/tjochem/www/nhaa/nhaa_home_page.html I've been lucky enough to work on several robot building teams, but I usually just work on the programs that control them. Other folks get to do the fun jobs of putting the pieces together.

Are they dangerous? Well, while any system is being built you always have to take safety precautions, both to project the people building it and the robot itself. But once it's complete, a robot is usually designed specially so it will be safe for people. The Mars rovers have cameras that help it understand the shape of the world around it. So if you were standing in front of it, it wouldn't recognize your face, but it would know that you're tall enough that it would have to ddrive around you.

Expert:

Question:
How big is the biggest robotic car?

Answer:
Well, it depends what you mean by car.

A few years back, there was a van that drove itself (most of the way) across the US: http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/user/tjochem/www/nhaa/nhaa_home_page.html

Here are some other big robots: http://www.ri.cmu.edu/centers/nrec/projects.html
There have been robot cranes, robot helicopters, robot planes... the biggest robotics car is as big a car as you like, with some computers added to it to control it.

Expert:
Dr. Mark Maimone
Machine Vision Researcher
Developer of Mars Exploration Rovers Autonomous Driving Software

Search for Life

Question:
If you find life, what will you do?
Marisol

Answer:
Whenever we build our spacecraft, there are always some microscopic organisms which we cannot remove before sending the spacecraft to other planets. We try to clean the spacecraft, but cannot get everything.

If we find life and confirm that we did not accidentally bring it with us from Earth, then we will send more science instruments to study the lifeform. We will probably establish tighter contamination controls to be especially careful to not contaminate it with our Earth microbes. We may even quarantine the area until we are ready to study it properly.

Oh yeah, I will probably jump up and down in excitement... :^)

Good question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Do you think there could be life on the moon Europa

Answer:
The thing about Europa that makes it such an interesting place to search for life is the probability that there are oceans hidden beneath the icy outer crust. We think that there may be oceans because the Galileo orbiter sent back pictures to us of surface features that appear to be slush and possibly liquid water on the surface of Europa.

Oceanographers very often have found life in the oceans of Earth where no one ever expected to find it. Life on Earth seems to have a way of finding ways to adapt and flourish even in wildly different conditions than we have on or near the surface. For instance, at ocean depths where there is no sunlight penetration and the water pressure is extremely high, certain organisms use a process called "chemosynthesis" to make energy from chemical reactions to survive instead of photosynthesis like plants use to make energy from sunlight. These organisms have been found in great abundance around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

So, the assertion is that if we can find lifeforms that are totally different to what we have on the surface of Earth in the oceans, and there are oceans on Europa, then we might find some form of life there as well. Hopefully, a future mission to Europa will probe into those water and tell us more than we know now about what is there.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Do you think there could be life on the moon Europa?

Answer:
It certainly seems possible. All the ingredients for life may be there. There may be liquid water beneath the crust of Europa. And there may be thermal energy from within Europa that could help support life. But that's speculation... we really need to send a mission to Europa to find out.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Why do you think there is life on Mars?
Hector

Answer:
Hector,
Right now, we're actually not sure weather there is life on Mars or not. A few years ago, a lot of people got excited because some scientists thought they discovered fossils in a Martian meteorite. Since then, though, other scientists have figured out that they weren't really fossils. There are areas on Mars, though were there is a lot of water ice, and scientists think that that ice may once have been liquid water. On Earth, just about every place we have water, there is life. So, the same may be true for Mars!

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
If we find any biogenic magnetites on Mars, can we prove there is evidence of life?

Tenzin

Answer:
Great question.
Finding biogenic magnetites would certainly provide strong evidence for life on Mars. The problem, though, is proving that they are biogenic. Magnetite can form in a lot of different environments, including inside bacteria. Magnetites that form in different ways generally look a little different under microscopes, but sometimes scientists can be fooled. If there were other pieces of evidence along with the magnetites, such as fossils or carbonaceous material, then there would be a much stronger case for past life.
Tim

Expert:
Tim Glotch
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
We did research on abiogenic mangetites to prove evidence of life on Mars, and I wanted to know... how can we differntiate biogenic magentites from abiogenic magnetites by using remote sensing?

Tenzin

Answer:
Tenzin,
Unfortunatey, we cannot differentiate biogenic and abiogenic magnetite using remote sensing. We really need to have samples returned to Earth, send an advanced robotic experiment, or get humans to Mars in order to evaluate any magnetite we find there. With remote sensing we can detect where magnetite occurs, but we cannot do more than that with current technologies.

Expert:
Amy Knudson
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is it possible that some sort of life can exist in mars, like an alien or someother type of living thing. they say that it is possible that there could be water, but we have only been looking at picture from a top view. maiby they should make a rover that is able to dig a hole to the point were there is a secret ojeises. it could be possible.

Danny Pena
Ames Middle School

Answer:
Hi Danny,

Yes, it is possible for some form of life to exist on Mars. It would most likely be microbial. It is possible that some of our spacecraft have taken spores to Mars from Earth.

It would be exciting if one day we find evidence of life or past life on Mars.

I don't think we would find any martian cats running around up there. You know, no martian mice... :^)

We do have evidence that there is water on Mars. It is frozen under the soil.

You have an excellent suggestion about digging for water. We have made efforts to get below the soil just as you suggest. We have tried to shoot probes into the soil, we have used a small shovel to dig up soil, and we are working on a drill tool to dig into the soil.

Great question!!!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Do you think that we might some day find life in caves on Mars

Answer:
Perhaps caves, but more likely deep underground. The Martian surface environment is so harsh that primitive life forms may have adapted to living underground where there is water and warmer temperatures.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
If there is any life on Mars, would the life forms be able to live on Earth?

Answer:
Because the environment on Earth is much less harsh than the Martian one, it is possible that Martian life forms could live here.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is there any signs of life in Mars? (Example: fossils in the rocks)
Arelys Rivero
3rd grade
Palm Springs Elementary

Answer:
We are eagerly looking for signs of life on Mars but have not yet found any. Fossils will be something we will look for using robotic explorers, and someday, with humans. It would be very exciting to discover fossils on Mars.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Space Travel

Question:
Do you ever fear for your life in space.

Answer:
Space is a very dangerous and unsafe place for humans. Astronauts wear their specials suits to protect them from the extreme temperatures, radiation and flying particles(-that travel so fast they can act like bullets.) Sounds like a scary environment to me, but many men and women are brave enough to "spacewalk" and complete certain missions.

Expert:
Ramiro Perez
Precision Motion Control Systems & Celestial Sensors
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Question:
It must have been an experence to go around the earth what did it look like to see our home planet?
Christina Banks
South Park Middle School, South Park PA

Answer:
I'm sorry to say I am not qualified to answer the question of what Earth looked like from space. I haven't ever flown in space. Nevertheless, I do feel proud to say that I was one of the first people to see some of the images sent back by the Voyager II spacecraft as it flew past Neptune in 1989. It was amazing to think that this beautiful world was doing its own thing in space, and had never been seen by humans up close. Until then, it was only a bright do to us. After the Voyager encounter, we knew there were geysers on Neptune's moon Triton. We saw broken rings, fainter than Saturn's, but fascinating in their strange shape. We saw storms on Neptune itself that lasted years, and were roughly the size of the full earth. It was pretty amazing to think of being part of that history in the making. It's why I still study the planets. It is so exciting to explore not only the earth, but the planets around us. To imagine what it would be like to be on them, and to move us forward as a species into future possibilities in space.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Hi I am Josh Koven and I would like to know when the next mission will be and have you ever heard of the umaned probe called Stardust

Answer:
There are several missions launching this year, including the Mars Exploration Rovers that launch in June and arrive at Mars in January and February 2004. They will go for at least 90 days exploring the surface of Mars.

Stardust launched in 1999 and its mission is to collect interstellar dust to return to Earth for research. It is currently headed for a rendezvous with a comet (Wild 2) to collect particles from its tail. It is scheduled to return to Earth in 2006.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Could you ever land someone on pluto? If you had the warmest clothes?
Lauren Henry
South Park Middle School, South Park PA.

Answer:
Yes, one could conceivably land on Pluto. It has a surface, but is mainly made of ices (water, ammonia, methane, like a cold, dirty snowcone). The biggest hurdle would simply be getting there in a reasonable amount of time. We sent the voyager spacecraft past Neptune (closer than pluto) and it took about 13 years for them to get there... and that doesn't include time to slow down to look around, or even to come home! So unless we figure out some new technology, getting to Pluto and back will take maybe 25 years of your life, spent in a spacecraft... Then you have to deal with the extreme cold, and the danger of landing there safely.. then taking off again... Its probably better for us to send robotic spacecraft first...

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Is it very exciting to travel in space?

Answer:
I think it would be very exciting and interesting to travel in space. I am not an astronaut, but an engineer who works on robotics systems like those for the Mars Exploration Rovers. I have read reports from astronauts that describe what it is like to be in space, and there are certainly some remarkable things. For one, the stars are very much brighter when viewed from space instead of through the Earth's atmosphere. You can see many more stars in fact, since the fainter ones never shine brightly enough to make it all the way to the Earth's surface. That is one reason why space telescope like the Hubble and SIRTF operate in Earth orbit, so that they can see entire galaxies, nebulae, and other things that you can't see nearly as well from Earth, if at all.

Of course, the low-gravity environment in space is very different from anything that most people experience on Earth. Weightlessness training is a major part of how all astronauts prepare for their missions, and whenever you see video of astronauts in space they always look like they are having a lot of fun floating around.

Space is not without its dangers, too. Besides the fact that there is no air, and that there is much more radiation to worry about that doesn't get dispersed through the atmosphere as it does on Earth, astronauts who spend a long time in space lose some of their bone mass and muscle strength the longer they are in low-gravity, and even if they exercise for hours each day, they still have to be careful how long they stay in space.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Is it very exciting to travel in space?

Answer:
I don't know, because I haven't done it... I imagine that it must be! My job is building spacecraft and sending them into space, and that's certainly exciting.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
How do you go to the bathroom?

Answer:
In space, you mean?

Basically, you have a vacuum hose that sends the waste into storage bags, and every now and then the bags are emptied into space.

In the movie "Apollo 13", there is a really good scene where they show a waste bag being emptied into space. It freezes instantly and looks like little stars floating around.

Expert:
Mark Powell
Member of the Technical Staff
Telerobotics Research and Applications Group
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Question:
Will future space flights be effected by the Columbia disaster?

Answer:
It's bound to be affected in some ways. The space program is kind of like a big family... when something bad happens to somebody in the family, everybody else feels it to a certain extent. The Columbia tragedy is not going to stop us from exploring... nothing will do that. But it reminds us very vividly and painfully how careful we have to be.

Expert:
Steve Squyres
Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

Question:
Why is the moon a dead planet?
Roberto

Answer:
Roberto,

The moon doesn't have sufficient gravity to keep an atmosphere. Without an atmosphere to protect the surface from hazardous space radiation, it would be impossible for life like we have on Earth to survive there.

An interesting sidenote... when the Apollo astronauts blasted off the surface of the moon, the exhuast from their rocket engines would have spread across the moon's surface to make a very tiny atmosphere for awhile until the gases finally escaped the moon's gravity.

Excellent question!

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
Has there been any diseases found in outer space?
Bernadette Hansen
Bateman School

Answer:
I don't believe so. Interplanetary space is pretty hostile to life...cosmis rays cause damage to DNA over time, and unless protected, most living things would have a hard time surviving in space. But it isn't impossible... some people think meteorites blasted off of Mars could possibly contain and harbor life long enough for it to have impacted the earth. We've definitely found such meteorites, but we don't think we've found life on them.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Question:
Is it very exciting to travel in space?

Answer:
I think it is.

That is what we all are doing right now but our spaceship is called planet Earth.

But if you mean taking that last little step of taking a spacecraft up another 100 miles above the Earth just above the atmoshpere, then that must be a definite 'yes' too.

Can you image how thrilling it must be to ride that rocket into space? And then going completely around the planet every 90 minutes?

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
When do you believe that man will reach close to light-speed in space?

Lacy Berman - South Park Middle School- South Park ,PA

Answer:
Hi Lacy,

Our current understanding of physics tells us that each little increase in speed near the speed of light comes at an incredible cost in terms of energy and each step costs much more than the previous step.

We probably won't be getting to those speeds.

Interesting question...

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
What do you think the rockets of the future will be?
Ronnie Graf
South Park Middle School,South Park PA

Answer:
I know that we are already working on ion propulsion for interplanetary travel. This may be used for a mission to Jupiter's satellite Europa somewhere in the next decade. This uses electric fields to accelerate charged ions out the back of the spacecraft... in response, the spacecraft accelerates forward. The advantage is that you can turn these engines on and off very easily, or throttle them back however you want. The problem so far with them is that they aren't nearly as powerful as the chemical rockets we use mainly now. I expect though that these ion drives will be more and more popular as time goes one. We may also use solar sails, where the momentum of the sunlight itself is what pushes the spacecraft. We haven't tried this yet, but we know theoretically it can be done. It just requires a VERY BIG sail in space.

Expert:
Dr. Don Banfield
Senior Research Associate
Cornell Astronomy

Water on Mars

Question:
I have done some research on Mars and does water actually exist. Has NASA found water, flowing water, above ground or underground on Mar... and I would like to ask what are the instruments they use to find water on other planets?

Suany

Answer:
We know that there is water on mars. We can see frost that comes and goes, and there is new evidence from the MGS and Mars Odyssey spacecraft that there was water flowing on Mars in the very recent past.

One instrument that we use to detect water is called a gamma ray spectrometer. It uses naturally occuring gamma rays to "light up" parts of the surface that have lots of hydrogen. Those are likely to have water because water has lots of hydrogen atoms.

Steve Collins

Expert:
Steve Collins
ACS Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
If water is actually found on the planet Mars what will be the next step or steps taken to development of a space colony?What kind of timeline would this involve?

Answer:
That is a good (and tough) question.

We have recently discovered water on Mars. Alot of it!

This is a very exciting time for exploring Mars. We will be sending many more robot missions to continue our exploration.

Whether we actually send people there will depend on how important the American people believe the need is.

Depending on this need, it could be as soon as 25 years. Maybe even sooner. Or it may not happen for a very long time, if ever.

Expert:
David Edward Herman
Deep Space Avionics Project
Avionics System Engineering Team Lead
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Question:
As there is speculation that there was once water on Mars would there be any possibilty that there once was intellegent life on Mars?

Answer:
Right now, the best hope for life on Mars in its past or present is for primitive life forms like single-celled plants. The climate on Mars is so harsh that it would be very difficult for more complex life to have developed. Intelligent life almost certainly could never have developed.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
If there is water on Mars will people move to Mars and plant plants to make the air safe?

Answer:
If there is water on Mars it will make it a lot easier for humans to visit Mars, but it would take a long time before humans could live permanently on Mars. Unfortunatley making the air safe on mars is not as easy as just planting plants to convert the CO2 to oxygen. The atmosphere of Mars is very thin and would take a build up of lots of different greenhouse gases (like water vapor, CO2, Oxygen) to thicken it. We would also need this thick atmospher to protect us from radiation form the sun, not just to have safe air to breathe. It would probably take hundreds if not thousands of years to make the atmosphere on Mars safe for humans to live like we do here. The process of making Mars more like Earth is called terraforming. A fun book to read to learn about this is the Red Mars trilogy. I can't remember the author right now...but if you're interested it shouldn't be hard to find. Hope this helps!

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Is their water on Mars? Explain with details your answer.

Answer:
For centuries many people believed that Mars was Earth-like: warm, wet and filled with life. The Mariner missions in the late 1960's revealed a much different Mars, covered with craters, extinct volcanoes, waterless deserts, and temperatures colder than Antarctica. But today scientists are beginning to suspect that Mars hasn't always been such a dry place, and that there may be water again on the surface in the future.

Spacecraft after the Mariner missions have given scientists a much closer look at the surface of Mars. They all indicate that Mars was once wet. Photos show signs of ancient rivers, lakes and maybe even an ocean. They appear to have been filled with water billions of years ago, but something happened and the planet became desert-like.

New data suggest the water might not be gone for good. Indeed, water may have flowed on Mars as recently. Evidence is growing that water lies beneath the Martian terrain.

Exciting hints came in 2000 when cameras aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft spotted hundreds of delicate gully systems. Earlier missions couldn't photograph such small features, so they were a big surprise. Is it water flowing onto the surface? It is still unsure. Recent work suggests that these features may be do to snow on Mars today!

Looking for water is also a major goal of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Beginning at the end of February 2002, Odyssey is now mapping Mars in several infrared and gamma ray wavelengths. The initial results from data look encouraging. Significant amounts of hydrogen on Mars indicate frozen water in the upper few feet of the Martian soil.

So the answer to your question is yes, we strongly believe that water in the form of ice and snow exists on Mars on or near the surface. Liquid water is still up for debate.

Finding large amounts of water on Mars has exciting implications. First, it may mean that life existed recently on Mars, or may still be lying dormant in the Martian soil or far underground. Second, any permanent manned base on Mars would require water. A good water supply would mean that human exploration of Mars is that much closer to reality!

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mossbaeur Team
Arizona State University

Question:
What kind of water is it?

Answer:
The story of water on Mars goes like this:

For centuries many people believed that Mars was Earth-like: warm, wet and filled with life. The Mariner missions in the late 1960's revealed a much different Mars, covered with craters, extinct volcanoes, waterless deserts, and temperatures colder than Antarctica. But today scientists are beginning to suspect that Mars hasn't always been such a dry place, and that there may be water again on the surface in the future.

Spacecraft after the Mariner missions have given scientists a much closer look at the surface of Mars. They all indicate that Mars was once wet. Photos show signs of ancient rivers, lakes and maybe even an ocean. They appear to have been filled with water billions of years ago, but something happened and the planet became desert-like.

New data suggest the water might not be gone for good. Indeed, water may have flowed on Mars as recently. Evidence is growing that water lies beneath the Martian terrain.

Exciting hints came in 2000 when cameras aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft spotted hundreds of delicate gully systems. Earlier missions couldn't photograph such small features, so they were a big surprise. Is it water flowing onto the surface? It is still unsure. Recent work suggests that these features may be do to snow on Mars today!

Looking for water is also a major goal of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Beginning at the end of February 2002, Odyssey is now mapping Mars in several infrared and gamma ray wavelengths. The initial results from data look encouraging. Significant amounts of hydrogen on Mars indicate frozen water in the upper few feet of the Martian soil.

So the answer to your question is- we strongly believe that water in the form of ice and snow exists on Mars on or near the surface. Liquid water is still up for debate.

Finding large amounts of water on Mars has exciting implications. First, it may mean that life existed recently on Mars, or may still be lying dormant in the Martian soil or far underground. Second, any permanent manned base on Mars would require water. A good water supply would mean that human exploration of Mars is that much closer to reality!

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
Bill Nye the Science Guy said that there was water on Mars, is the water frozen because of the cold weather?

Answer:
The story of water on Mars goes like this:

For centuries many people believed that Mars was Earth-like: warm, wet and filled with life. The Mariner missions in the late 1960's revealed a much different Mars, covered with craters, extinct volcanoes, waterless deserts, and temperatures colder than Antarctica. But today scientists are beginning to suspect that Mars hasn't always been such a dry place, and that there may be water again on the surface in the future.

Spacecraft after the Mariner missions have given scientists a much closer look at the surface of Mars. They all indicate that Mars was once wet. Photos show signs of ancient rivers, lakes and maybe even an ocean. They appear to have been filled with water billions of years ago, but something happened and the planet became desert-like.

New data suggest the water might not be gone for good. Indeed, water may have flowed on Mars as recently. Evidence is growing that water lies beneath the Martian terrain.

Exciting hints came in 2000 when cameras aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft spotted hundreds of delicate gully systems. Earlier missions couldn't photograph such small features, so they were a big surprise. Is it water flowing onto the surface? It is still unsure. Recent work suggests that these features may be do to snow on Mars today!

Looking for water is also a major goal of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Beginning at the end of February 2002, Odyssey is now mapping Mars in several infrared and gamma ray wavelengths. The initial results from data look encouraging. Significant amounts of hydrogen on Mars indicate frozen water in the upper few feet of the Martian soil.

So the answer to your question is yes- we strongly believe that frozen water in the form of ice and snow exists on Mars on or near the surface. Liquid water is still up for debate. Pure water would instantly freeze at the surface conditions that exist on Mars today. However, research is on going to see if water mixed with salts (called brines) could still be liquid at Martian temperatures. Liquid water may also be found a few meters or more in the ground where is it is warmer than the surface. So stayed tuned in to Mars exploration over the next few years as we learn more.

Finding large amounts of water on Mars has exciting implications. First, it may mean that life existed recently on Mars, or may still be lying dormant in the Martian soil or far underground. Second, any permanent manned base on Mars would require water. A good water supply would mean that human exploration of Mars is that much closer to reality!

Trevor Graff

Expert:
Trevor Graff
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
What kinds of microoganisms do astrobiologists predict will thrive in the underground reservoirs of Mars? --A. H.

Answer:
If there is subsurface water on Mars scientists think that chemolithoautotrophic organisms may live there. These microscopic organisms synthesize organics from hydrogen and carbon dioxide that are formed during the aqueous weathering of basalt ( a rock that makes up most of the martian surface). The literal translation of these bacteria are bacteria which live (trophy) by obtaining their energy from chemical reactions (chemo-), their carbon from carbon dioxide (auto-), and their electron donor chemically (litho-). I hope this helps!

Expert:
Alice Baldridge
Graduate Research Assistant
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University

Question:
If water is actually found on the planet Mars what will be the next step or steps taken to development of a space colony?What kind of timeline would this involve?

Answer:
Exploring Mars is difficult and expensive. We probably won't send humans for another 20 to 30 years. Colonies or outposts on Mars certainly would take many more decades. Remember, we sent humans to the Moon starting in 1969 but still have no colony there. Think of Antarctica, a place that is much easier to get to and live than Mars. But we have had permanent outposts there only for the past 50 years.

Expert:
Steve Ruff
Mini-TES
Mars Space Flight Facility
Arizona State University