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Mars Exploration Program

Viking 40th Anniversary

July 20, 2016

From NASA's soft landing to humans on Mars, Part 2 of 2.
Viking at 40 Events Agenda >>

Viking 40th Anniversary

July 20 2016

From NASA's first soft landing to humans on Mars. Part 1 of 2.

Viking 40th Anniversary Lecture

July 19 2016

Viking at 40 - From the NASA's first soft landing to humans on Mars - Viking at 40

The Legacy of Viking

May 26, 2016

JPL's Gentry Lee, who was the Viking mission's Director of Science Analysis and Mission Planning, shared his experiences during the mission's development and operations on the surface of Mars. The presentation is sponsored by the Communications and Education Directorate.

Fire and Ice... and Methane - Exploring Mars and Titan using laboratory and field analogues on Earth

May 19, 2016
Speaker: Dr. Morgan Cable - Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer, Cassini Mission, JPL Technologist, Instrument Systems Implementation and Concepts Section, JPL

The search for life elsewhere in the solar system has tantalized humanity for centuries. This search has led us to look outward, towards places that may have life (Mars) or the chemical precursors for life (Titan). This search has also led us inward, recreating other worlds in the laboratory and studying places on Earth that can act as analogue environments to other places that are more difficult to reach.

Titan, a moon of Saturn, is an excellent example of a 'prebiotic' world where a diverse array of organic molecules exist, but life as we know it cannot survive on the surface. The liquid hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, composed primarily of methane and ethane, are a unique environment where these organic molecules have the opportunity to interact – and possibly react – with each other. By recreating Titan's lakes in the laboratory, we are discovering new chemical interactions that were previously unknown to science, and which may help us understand how Titan came to be.

Iceland, a Nordic island shaped by volcanism and glaciers, is recognized as an analogue environment for Mars due to its similar geochemistry and mineralogy. Through an international collaboration inspired by the NASA Nordic Astrobiology Summer School, we have successfully completed two field expeditions to Iceland to test life detection techniques that may be used on future Mars missions. We discovered that microbial diversity can vary widely, even in areas that appear to be the same in terms of geology. This has implications for where and how we might search for life on Mars.

In the Blink of the Eye: What 10 Years at Mars Can Tell Us About the Planet

March 24, 2016
Speaker: Dr. Leslie Tamppari, MRO Project Deputy Scientist, JPL
Our eyes in the sky at Mars include the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars for 10 years.

The orbiter has sent back thousands of high-resolution images and more data than all Mars missions combined and:

  • Found the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars
  • Found evidence of diverse watery environments on early Mars, some more habitable than others
  • Caught avalanches and dust storms in action
  • Seen seasonal changes and longer-term changes over the last decade

On Aug. 12, 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Seven months later, the orbiter arrived at Mars. Thus began an incredible journey of exploration, guided by the Mars Exploration Program's "follow-the-water" theme.

Originally slated for a two-year prime science mission followed by a two-year relay mission, MRO has logged more than a decade of science operations and support for surface missions. MRO has probed the planet's atmosphere, surface and subsurface with unprecedented spatial resolution and coverage. Its seven science investigations and six instruments have returned more than 250 terabits of data, enabling numerous discoveries. Among them, MRO has found evidence for a variety of water-laden environments dating to early Mars, and enough carbon dioxide ice buried in the south polar cap to double the current atmosphere if it were released in gaseous form. The orbiter has revealed a planet with a surface that is active today, decorated by moving dunes and mysterious strips that appear to be brine flows.

At the same time, MRO has rendered invaluable service to landers and rovers at Mars. It not only delivered critical information for the selection of landing sites, but captured crucial data and historic images during the arrivals of the Phoenix lander and Mars Science Laboratory. Since then, MRO has frequently served as a relay for data and commands between those spacecraft and Earth. As NASA's Mars Exploration Program looks to the future, MRO continues to characterize and certify new landing sites for both NASA and the European Space Agency, while preparing to cover critical events and landed operations for the InSight lander, Mars 2020 rover, and future missions.

The InSight Mission: Journey to the Center of Mars

December 3, 2015
Speaker: Dr. Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator, JPL

The InSight mission to Mars, the twelfth mission in NASA's Discovery Program, will launch in March of 2016, landing six months later in Elysium Planitia. Unlike previous missions to Mars, which have focused on surface features and chemistry, InSight aims to explore the interior of the planet down to its very core. InSight will investigate the fundamental processes of terrestrial planet formation and evolution by performing the first comprehensive surface-based geophysical measurements on Mars. It will provide key information on the composition and structure of an Earth-like planet that has gone through most of the evolutionary stages of the Earth up to plate tectonics.

The planet Mars is a keystone in our quest for understanding the early processes of terrestrial planet formation and evolution. Unlike the Earth, its overall structure appears to be relatively unchanged since a few hundred million years after formation. Unlike the Moon, it is large enough that the pressure-temperature conditions within the planet span an appreciable fraction of the terrestrial planet range. Thus the large-scale chemical and structural evidence within Mars should tell us a great deal about the processes of planetary differentiation and heat transport.

InSight will pursue these goals using seismology, precision tracking, and heat flow measurements. The limitation to a single location provides challenges to traditional seismology, which can be overcome with the application of single-station techniques that have been developed for terrestrial observations, and to heat flow interpretation, which is spatially variable and thus would prefer many distributed measurements.

Mars Science Laboratory: Public Lectures

Mars Science Laboratory: Public Lectures

Last Webcast: Aug. 14, 2014
The Theodore von Kármán Lecture Series, named after JPL's founder, and presented by JPL's Office of Communication and Education, brings the excitement of the space program's missions, instruments and other technologies to both JPL employees and the local community. Lectures take place twice per month, on consecutive Thursdays and Fridays.
Watch MSL Public Lectures >>