400 years of Martian research are reviewed and some future prospects, ending in human landing on Mars, are presented. First there were detailed observations of Mars with increasing accuracy, then there was a period of mapping and finally speculations of human-like population on the planet. After having entered the space era with Sputnik 1 Mars was quickly defined as the most important target to be studied by in situ observations. Until 1975 altogether 25 attempts to reach the red planet were made. Most of these missions failed but some were very successful providing accurate photographs and environmental data of the entire planet. In the time period 1988–1999 nine technically highly advanced missions were launched but only two of these were completely successful providing high-resolution terrain images recorded from orbit and, for the first time, surface chemical and mineralogical data by means of a mini-rover, Mars Pathfinder. Today Mars has three operational orbiters and three instrument packages on the surface, of which one, the rover Opportunity, is fully operational after having traversed nearly 23 km in 6 years. In the near future the 2011 launch window seems to be most active: U.S. is sending a more advanced Curiosity rover to Mars and Russia a spacecraft to land on the moon Phobos and aiming at bringing back to Earth samples of the moon’s surface. Later NASA and ESA are combining forces to send in 2016 an orbiter to record surface methane emissions and in 2018 two new-generation rovers to Mars. This will be followed by a sample return mission. The entire goal of all these activities is to prepare for a human flight to Mars in the 2030–2033 time frame.
KeywordsInternational Space Station Martian Atmosphere Mars Global Surveyor Mars Express Laser Altimeter
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