Mars Rover: Roaming the Red Planet

By: Nathan Chandler

Which country was the first to land a remotely-operated rover on Mars?

America landed the first humans on the moon, but in 1971 the U.S.S.R. was the first to land a rover on Mars. But things didn't go quite as planned.

What happened to the U.S.S.R.'s Mars 3 rover once it was safely on the surface of Mars?

The Soviet Mars 3 lander landed safely on Mars and prepared to deploy its tethered rover. Less than 15 seconds later, all communication was lost. No one knows for sure what happened to the machines.

The Soviet Mars 3 mission failed in 1971. How much time passed before humans conducted a successful Mars rover mission?

After the first safe rover landing, it took another 26 years for humankind to actually get a rover to operate properly on Mars.

The U.S. was the first country successfully operate a rover on Mars. What was the name of that rover?

In 1997, NASA landed the Mars Pathfinder lander on Mars. Pathfinder unleashed a little rover named Sojourner, which explored the alien planet for about three months.

Sojourner sent data back to NASA via radio waves. How long did it take those radio waves to travel from Mars to Earth?

Communicating with the rover was a test in patience. NASA would wait 10 minutes for the rover to receive instructions, and then wait another 10 minutes for the rover's response to reach Earth.

When did Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner first touch down on Mars?

NASA always needs good publicity, and this rover mission was no different. The mission successfully touched down on America's Independence Day during a highly-publicized event and then went on to perform many other amazing feats.

Mars Pathfinder was the first lander to use what technology during the landing phase of the mission?

Pathfinder plunged into Mars' atmosphere, deployed a parachute and then -- for the first time ever -- popped open airbags that allowed the machine to bounce along the planet's surface until coming to a safe stop.

The Sojourner was about the size of what object?

Sojourner was a small device with a big mission. It was roughly the size of a microwave and included a solar array on top for power, in addition to some non-rechargeable batteries.

Sojourner operated properly for about three months. How far did the six-wheeled rover travel during that time?

The little rover had a maximum speed of about two feet per minute, but it often stopped to perform scientific work. In three months it traveled just over 330 feet.

The Sojourner rover was named after what?

In Civil War times, a black woman named Sojourner Truth traveled the country in support of women's rights and the abolition of slavery. Born a slave, she eventually won her own freedom and fought for the freedom of other enslaved humans.

The rover transmitted images using low-bandwidth radio waves. How many images did it manage to send back to NASA in the course of three months?

The rover sent data packets made of 2,000 eight-bit bytes. After months of these packets, NASA was able to see about 550 pictures of the Martian landscape. The Mars Pathfinder lander sent many more.

In 2003 and early 2004, NASA landed not one, but two, rovers on the surface of Mars. What were their names?

Spirit and Opportunity landed successfully on Mars in 2003 and 2004. Thus began one of the most incredible NASA missions since the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Spirit was also known as MER-A, which stands for what?

Spirit was MER-A (Mars Explorer Rover-A). Opportunity, of course, was MER-B. Both were armed to the teeth with advanced scientific instruments designed for a variety of tasks.

With Spirit and Opportunity, NASA researchers were looking for signs of life on Mars.

The rovers had an epic mission -- they were designed partly to look for signs of life on Mars. One major goal? To find evidence of water.

NASA engineers hoped that the rovers would work properly for at least how long?

The engineers designed the rovers to work for at least 90 sols (Martian days), which is about three months. During that span, they planned to grab as much scientific data as possible.

Which rover failed first?

Spirit was the first to fail. But that didn't happen until 2010. The rover lasted an incredible 2,208 sols, much, much longer than the mission's original goal of 90 sols.

Spirit finally failed in 2010. What happened to it?

Spirit was rolling along the surface when it became lodged in soft soil. Bereft of traction, NASA gave up trying to move the rover and used it as a stationary science station until its power source finally died.

The rover named Opportunity began its mission in 2004 with a 90-sol mission. It is still operating.

It's one of the most flabbergasting NASA missions ever. As of early 2017, the indomitable rover is still hard at work, having exceeded its mission duration 50 times over.

How far did Spirit travel before becoming permanently stuck in loose Martian soil?

Spirit rolled about 4.8 miles during its years-long journey. The 400-pound rover far outperformed all of NASA's expectations.

Opportunity is still on the move. How far has this incredibly durable rover traveled in its 12-plus years on Mars?

Opportunity has completed a marathon and then some. As of early 2017, it has traveled more than 27 miles.

In 2005, Opportunity encountered a situation that imperiled its mission. What happened?

Like Spirit, Opportunity also got stuck in material that didn't provide sufficient traction. NASA engineers spent more than a month performing Earth simulations in an effort to find a way to free the rover. Six weeks later, the rover broke loose and continued its journey.

The rovers found evidence that Mars once had an environment suitable for life.

The rovers found evidence of water. They also found that Mars may have had an environment suitable for life for many millions of years.

NASA landed yet another rover on Mars in 2011. What was the rover's name?

In 2011, a 2,000-pound rover named Curiosity began its explorations of Mars. Its goal was to further the knowledge gained by previous rover missions.

NASA scientists planned for Curiosity's mission to last a minimum of how long?

In a true sign that NASA's technologies (and expectations) have evolved, the engineers planned for Curiosity to perform a two-year mission. The biggest goal was to see if the Red Planet once supported life.

Curiosity has six big wheels and an amazing suspension system. It can climb over rocks that are how tall?

The rover's suspension system and beefy wheels give it the ability to climb over some major obstacles. It can climb right over rocks that are nearly 30 inches high.

Curiosity dragged Earth bacteria to Mars.

No amount of cleaning could remove all Earth contamination. Curiosity likely had tens of thousands of bacterial spores onboard, and they may have survived the journey to Mars. It is hoped that these organisms won't affect Mars in any way.

What's Curiosity's maximum speed?

Compared to older rovers, Curiosity is downright fast. It can travel nearly 300 feet per hour, though it spends most of its time going much more slowly, so as to investigate its surroundings along the way.

NASA's next rover mission should launch when?

The Mars 2020 mission was announced in 2012. It should launch in July 2020, and then begin its ground mission about six months later.

What's the purpose of the Mars 2020 rover?

As with past missions, the Mars 2020 rover is hellbent on finding signs of life on Mars. The rover still has no name.

The Mars 2020 rover will perform which robot duties?

The rover will listen to the sounds of Mars and send back audio clips. It will also snatch and store rocks in the hopes that someday NASA will find a way to retrieve them.

Explore More Quizzes

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

There's still no solid plan for a manned mission to Mars. In the meantime, NASA has found all sorts of success by sending robotic rovers to the Red Planet's surface. These wheeled robots perform incredible scientific work and provide researchers with precious scientific information. How much do you know about the rovers?

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!