Orbit of Mars gets closer to earth every two years or so. For astronauts, this is an ideal time to execute missions toward Mars. Robots, for now, are doing the job for astronauts with future crew planning doing rounds for mission Mars. Generally, if Mars is closer, probes are more efficient. Missions spend less time in transit, they require less fuel and don’t cost much comparatively. From Odyssey in 2001 to Insight in 2018 missions took advantage of this window.
NASA is keen to put manned Mars mission on its calendar during this period. This could get astronauts there and back safely. It is the most efficient way of this mission say experts.
However, Japan’s Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) program, slated to launch in 2024, will be the first robotic sample return mission to Phobos. Such a mission could pave the way for human exploration of these moons.
Earlier, NASA’s Curiosity rover confirmed the presence of surface organics and seasonal releases of methane. Also notable is the fact that Mars hosts two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, potato-shaped bodies that may be important to understanding how planets form and even how they may become habitable.
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As of now, NASA’s plans are focused more on moon landing than Mars. But we can expect the next close approach in 2020 will see lots of robot travellers. NASA, the European Space Agency, China and the United Arab Emirates all plan to launch unmanned missions by then.