Last Tuesday, the twelve astronauts who were researching Mars were confronted by a huge challenge - climbing the tallest mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons. The astronauts were sent to collect samples of the cooled lava for geological experiments.
These astronauts are part of a space exploration venture called the Mars Global Surveyor mapping mission sponsored by the World Space Academy consisting of members from USA, Russia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, China and India. The goal of the mission is to collect elevation and surface data that will help explore the possibility of a future life on Mars.
Olympus Mons is located in the southern-cratered terrain of the red planet. The mountain is a volcano and preliminary samples of lava from its flank show that the eruptions that formed the mountain took place over a long period, perhaps over a period consisting of several million years. This massive volcano towers over twenty-seven kilometres above the average surface of Mars.
The astronauts were shocked at the very low air pressure on the immense peak. It was so low that, evacuation had to begin immediately before anyone fell unconscious due to shortage of air. "It was totally unexpected and the design of our space suits and oxygen supply had not accounted for this occurrence - the atmosphere was unbelievably thin and we were all gasping in minutes!" said Derek Lee, an astronaut on the Mars mission. "I almost didn't make it down the huge mountain! Compared to Olympus Mons the other volcanoes were nothing at all!"
The astronauts are expected to return from the space station for one more try very shortly, perhaps as early as within a week. The astronauts will try the same feat, but will bring excess oxygen with them, so they will have more time to locate the rock samples.
So far the astronauts have learned that Mars, called the red planet because of its red soil, has many features similar to that of Earth. This is evident from the many volcanoes, canyon systems, craters and riverbeds.
Interview with Chief Astronaut Bill Hadley, Global Surveyor Mission to Mars
1. Tell us about the Global Surveyor Mars mapping mission.
2. How many crewmembers do you have on this mission?
3. When did the mission leave Earth for Mars and when will
the mission return?
4. Tell us about some of your findings on this mission so
A short Fun Quiz on Mars for all ages
1. Similar to Earth, Mars also has polar caps that contain
traces of ice and carbon dioxide - True or False?
2. The amount of land on Mars is the same as the amount
of land on earth - True or False?
3. What is the name of the tallest mountain on Mars?
4. Mars' Olympus Mons is the tallest mountain known in
the solar system - True or False?
5. What is the diameter of Mars and how big is it in proportion
6. New evidence suggests the presence of water and ice
on Mars - True or False?
7. How many moons does Mars have? What are they called?