|Question: Could a group of astronauts go to Mars instead of a rover?
Answer: Right now, rovers do what astronauts cannot: roam the surface of Mars, take pictures, do tests, and, one day, also collect samples. The proper technology does not exist to send people to Mars (it takes 6 months to get there!), and then to sustain them while they are there. The environment on Mars is very harsh compared to Earth: It is much, much colder, there are high winds which create dust storms, and has a thinner atmosphere. Any human would have to have a special suit and life support systems. One of the reasons they send rovers to Mars is to find out whether it is even worthwhile to send people. If scientists decide it is, they may explore the possibilities of sending a human to Mars within the next 20 years!
First, a number of experiments will need to be done to ensure the safety of the mission. This might include experiments such as MECA (Mars Environmental Compatibility Assessment). MECA is a set of instruments which will investigate hazards on the surface of Mars that could affect human exploration. If you would like to read more about MECA, go to http://planetary.chem.tufts.edu/LPI-Grannan.pdf.
|Question: How would a rover like FIDO be able to reach Mars?
Answer: The rover would travel to Mars on-board a
spacecraft designed specifically for this purpose. It would take the rover six to
eight months to reach Mars. Once at Mars, a lander carrying the rover would
descend to the surface. The lander and rover would work together on the
surface to obtain data and fulfill the mission requirements.
|Question: How do you compensate for differences in gravity between Earth and Mars when testing FIDO on Earth?
Answer: FIDO is heavier than the flight rover will be on Mars. Thus, it is not a direct match. Some tests will be done in the future to evaluate drilling under Mars gravity conditions.
|Question: Why are rovers tested on Earth in places such as the Mojave Desert?
Answer: The terrain in the Mojave Desert is similar to that on Mars.
Deserts, like Mars, have windblown sand and dust particles and exposed rock surfaces (and very few plants to get in the way). The rovers are tested in Mars-like terrains to learn how to do complex operations on Earth before trying them on Mars.
|Question: Why is Mars exploration important?
Answer: Mars is perhaps the planet most like Earth in terms of having dramatic shifts in climate in the past. Understanding paleoclimactic changes on Mars can help us understand climates on Earth as well as on planets in general. It is quite possible, as well, that Mars at one point harbored some form of life, which probably developed in hydrothermal systems. Finding and characterizing this past life would be an extraordinary help in understanding life on Earth.
|Question: How do you get to study Mars?
Answer: It takes a large group of people with diverse backgrounds and abilities to run a Mars mission. Planetary scientists, geologists, engineers, mathematicians, educators, computer scientists, and others involved in science and technology are crucial not only for getting the rover to Mars,
but for learning something about the planet and sharing the information with other people. Their commonality is an interest in science, Mars, and a desire to make the mission happen.
|Question: Why are rovers good for exploring?
Answer: Rovers move around. That means that they can take samples, measurements, and images from more than one place (unlike a lander) and at a very close range. Scientists can decide what they want to look at or sample and usually the rover can get there.
|Question: Will there ever be a human on Mars?
Answer: The Mars missions over the next ten years will provide valuable information about whether there will be major scientific questions that need to be answered by human exploration. The next set of missions will also address whether it is possible for a human to go to Mars. Right now, very little is known about the potential hazards for human exploration (radiation, hazardous dusts and gases, etc.). Rovers will provide information to help scientists and engineers decide if it is worthwhile and safe for humans to explore the red planet.
|Question: Is FIDO going to Mars, too?
Answer: FIDO is only a prototype rover which allows scientists and engineers to test operations scenarios and instruments that might some day be used on a mission to Mars. FIDO will only be tested on Earth, allowing scientists and engineers to practice commanding the rover remotely (by computer) and use the instrumentation.
|Question: What happens to rovers on Mars after they finish their tasks?
Answer: After rovers finish their jobs, the signals from Earth will be cut off, and they will stop working.
|Question: What is done with the data that rovers collect?
Answer: The rovers send the information back to Earth either directly, or via an orbiter which sends it to computers on Earth. The data are then archived and can be used by scientists around the world to understand more about Mars and planetary exploration. Of course, the samples will also eventually be returned to Earth for further study.
|Question: How does the solar array on FIDO compare with the one
that was on Sojourner?
Answer: The solar array on FIDO is similar to,
but not the same as, the one on Pathfinder's Sojourner. Both solar arrays are (were) utilized to provide power for the rover's computer, motors, instruments and electronics. The basic difference between the two is the quality of the solar cell used in the array and the size of the arrays. Solar cells used on FIDO are less efficient because more
efficient solar cells cost significantly more. Expensive cells are usually only used for flight applications. The size of the array on FIDO is much bigger than the array size on Sojourner.