The first step towards a human landing on Mars has been taken: A solar-paneled lander has successfully entered the Martian atmosphere and is now heading towards the Red Planet.
On Sunday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, successfully sent the SLS-III, a giant rocket and rocket booster, into orbit at 3:38pm local time (1:38am GMT), the first of five flights to Mars in the near future.
It is the first time a spacecraft that has been in space for just over five years has been able to enter the Martian orbit.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will conduct an extended mission, travelling from Mars to its northern polar region for a four-month test period in 2022.
The landing was expected, but not yet guaranteed, but the SES-11 spacecraft, also a giant booster, also entered the Mars atmosphere in October.
The SES satellite, which is a small satellite, is set to be launched by Russia’s Soyuz-1.1 rocket, which carried a Progress cargo capsule carrying the first set of supplies to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz rocket’s maiden flight was successful on May 20, 2018, with the crew safely returning to Earth.
The SLS is expected to launch into space on November 17, 2021, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
In the next couple of months, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will begin testing and assessing the rocket’s performance.
SLS is also set to launch a probe that will test a solar power source for the orbiting station, which NASA says could provide enough power to power the entire space station for up to two months.
“This is a huge step forward for Mars exploration,” said ESA’s director general, Jean-Jacques Dordain.
“It is a historic day, and one of the biggest milestones in the history of space exploration.
But it will not be the last.
We will continue to do what we can to build a safe, sustainable, and sustainable future for humanity on Mars.”