Last November, NASA managed to land the InSight spacecraft on the surface of Mars. It marked the eighth time that such a lander mission was accomplished. However, it certainly won’t be the last, as there are currently 3 more lander missions currently being planned for the Red Planet. Add to that lineup two planned orbiter missions and it’s probably safe to say that Mars will be our busiest planetary neighbor for the foreseeable future.
Insight is only the second functioning rover on Mars right now. The other rover, Curiosity, was about 400 miles away when the newest spacecraft touched down in November. The current plans have Insight digging and gathering experimental data for the next two years before another rover arrives. As it turns out, those rovers could be arriving the U.S., China, or Europe.
The U.S. has a 2020 mission planned that will focus on searching for rocks that could contain microbial evidence of life. Those rock samples will be stored until the rovers return to Earth sometime in the early 2030s. The rover will primarily search an area of Mars around the Jezero Crater where an ancient river delta is thought to have been.
There’s also a European and Russian joint mission planned that also involves digging for chemical fossils. It’s not the first time the mission has been attempted. In 2016, another ExoMars spacecraft crashed on the surface of the planet when attempting to land.
China is sending a mission to Mars in 2020, as well. However, they’ll be sending both a rover and an orbiter. 2020 will also mark the first time that the United Arab Emirates will launch a spacecraft bound for Mars.
While NASA is currently focusing much of its efforts on going back to the moon, it would seem that Mars will continue to be as popular a destination as ever. Those moon missions will be just as important, though. Many of the future missions to the Red Planet will hinge upon testing technology on the lunar surface. As it stands now, all predictions point to sometime in the mid-2030s before we put humans on the surface of Mars.