Mars Exploration Science Goals

The key to understanding the past, present or future potential for life on Mars can be found in NASA’s four broad, overarching goals for Mars exploration.

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Water carved channels and transported sediments form fans and deltas within lake basins in this image of Mars' Jezero crater.
Water carved channels and transported sediments form fans and deltas within lake basins in this image of Mars' Jezero crater.

Mars is the only planet we know of inhabited entirely by robots.

  • Artist's concept depicts astronauts and human habitats on Mars.

    From Robots to Humans

    Recorded observations of Mars date back more than 4,000 years. Led by our curiosity of the cosmos, NASA has sent a carefully selected international fleet of robotic orbiters, landers and rovers to keep a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery from Mars. The science and technology developed through Mars Exploration missions will enable humans to one day explore the Red Planet in person.

    Artist's concept depicts astronauts and human habitats on Mars.

Rover Basics

Each robotic explorer sent to the Red Planet has its own unique capabilities driven by science. Many attributes of a rover take on human-like features, such as “heads,” “bodies,” and “arms and legs."

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter.

A carefully selected international fleet of robotic orbiters, landers, and rovers keeps a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery from Mars.

Mars Missions

Perseverance Selfie with Ingenuity

Mars 2020: Perseverance Rover

The Mars 2020 mission Perseverance rover is the first step of a journey that would return Mars samples to Earth. (2020-present)

Rovers, helicopters, and rockets on Mars showing the robots that would collect and return a Mars sample

Mars Sample Return

NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are planning ways to bring the first samples of Mars material back to Earth for detailed study.

Rover on Mars.

EXOMars Program

ESA’s (European Space Agency) Exobiology on Mars program consists of two missions: Trace Gas Orbiter and the Rosalind Franklin rover.



InSight was the first space robotic explorer to study in-depth the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core. (2018-2022)

artist's concept of MAVEN and Mars


MAVEN is obtaining critical measurements of Mars' atmosphere to help understand dramatic climate change over the planet's history. (2013-present)

Illustration of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter over Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

MRO studies the planet's atmosphere and terrain from orbit and serves as a key data relay station for other Mars missions. (2005-present)

Mars Curiosity Rover Selfie

Mars Science Laboratory: Curiosity Rover

Curiosity is investigating Mars to determine whether the Red Planet ever was habitable to microbial life. (2011-present)

Photo of surface of Mars with Phoenix scoop

Mars Phoenix

Phoenix carried a complex suite of instruments to look for signs of water-ice in a region farther north than any previous mission. (2007-2008)

Sprit rover on Mars, artist rendition

Mars Exploration Rovers: Spirit and Opportunity

A pair of Mars rovers that used field geology and atmospheric observations as they looked for signs of ancient water activity. (2003-2010)

Spacecraft flying over Mars

Mars Express (ESA)

NASA is contributing advanced radar and radio relay systems to this ESA-ASI mission searching for sub-surface water from Mars orbit. (2003-present)

Mars Odyssey orbiter over the north polar region

2001 Mars Odyssey

NASA's longest-lasting spacecraft at Mars is making the first global map of the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals that make up the Martian surface. (2001-present)

Spacecraft lander on Mars.

Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2

Mars Polar Lander's mission was to dig for water ice near the edge of the south polar cap and deploy two small surface probes, but all spacecraft were lost on arrival. (1999)

Spacecraft in orbit over Mars.

Mars Climate Orbiter

Designed to function as an interplanetary weather satellite and a communications relay for Mars Polar Lander, Mars Climate Orbiter was lost on arrival after entering the atmosphere too low. (1999-1999)

Mars Global Surveyor's Articulated High Gain Antenna.

Mars Global Surveyor

Mars Global Surveyor studied the entire Martian surface, atmosphere, and interior, discovering repeatable weather patterns, gully formation, new boulder tracks, and recent impact craters. (1996-2006)

Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner rover on Mars in 1997.

Mars Pathfinder

Mars Pathfinder demonstrated a new way to deliver an instrumented lander, and the first robotic rover, to the planet's surface, from which it returned data long past its primary design life. (1996-1997)

Artist's image of a spacecraft in orbit over Mars

Mars Observer

Mars Observer was designed to study the geology, geophysics, and climate of Mars, but contact with the spacecraft was lost shortly before it was set to enter orbit around the planet. (1992-1993)

U.S. flag visible on Viking lander with Martian terrain on horizon

Vikings 1 & 2

The first U.S. mission to land a spacecraft safely on Mars and return images of the surface, Viking 1 was part of a pair of probes seeking signs of life on Mars. (1975-1982 )

Mariner 9 spacecraft

Mars Mariner Missions

NASA's Mariner 9, launched days after Mariner 8, was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet and to orbit Mars, mapping 85% of the surface. (1971-1972)

The Future of Mars

NASA is reimagining the future of Mars exploration, driving new scientific discoveries, and preparing for humans on Mars. NASA’s Mars Exploration Program will focus the next two decades on its science-driven systemic approach on these strategic goals: exploring for potential life, understanding the geology and climate of Mars, and preparation for human exploration.

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Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at Airfield Mu. The helicopter is just below and to the left of center in the image. It is about 720 feet (220 meters) away from the rover. The approximately 4-foot-wide (1.2-meter-wide) split boulder, which appears to be directly in front and to the right of the helicopter, is actually about 380 feet (115 meters) in front of the rotorcraft.
This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at “Airfield Mu” was taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard Perseverance on April 14, 2023, the 764th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission. The helicopter’s landing hazard avoidance algorithm helped guide it to a safe landing at Mu the previous sol, after completing its 50th flight.
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