Florida – Spacecraft that have tried to land on Mars missed, burned on entry, crashed to the surface, or descended in the middle of a fierce dust storm only to spit out a single gray, blurry image beforehand. die.
Almost 50 years after the first stumble on Mars, NASA will attempt the most difficult landing yet.
The Perseverance explorer is expected to arrive this Thursday at a 5X4 mile patch on the shore of an ancient river delta.
It’s full of cliffs, wells, sand dunes, and rock fields, any one of which could ruin the $ 3 billion mission.
Once-submerged terrain could also contain evidence of past life, all the more reason to collect samples here and return to Earth in 10 years.
While NASA has done everything it can to ensure success, “there’s always the fear that it won’t work well, that it won’t work out,” Landing Team Engineer Erisa Stilley said Tuesday.
The historic mission reaches the Red Planet.
“We’ve had a good run of successful missions recently and you don’t want to be the next to fail. It’s heartbreaking when that happens. ”
NASA has made eight of the nine landing attempts, making the United States the only country to do so.
China hopes to be second in late spring with its own life-seeking vehicle; his spacecraft entered Martian orbit last week along with a spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has featured “1%,” a satirical tourism ad to go to Mars, in anticipation of the arrival of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on the red planet.
The extremely thin atmosphere of the red planet makes it difficult to descend safely.
Russia has racked up the most rover losses on Mars and the moon, Phobos, since the early 1970s.
The European Space Agency has also tried and failed. Two NASA landers are still operational: the 2012 Curiosity rover and the 2018 InSight.
The Chinese probe Tianwen-1 successfully entered the orbit of Mars on Wednesday, after a 6 and a half month trip from the Hainan space station, in the south of the Asian giant, reported the official Xinhua agency.
Launched in July, Perseverance will land about 2,000 miles away in Jezero crater, descending by parachute, rocket engines and aerial crane.
NASA has equipped the Perseverance, which weighs one ton, with the latest technology to achieve landing.
A new autopilot tool will calculate the distance of the descending rover to the target location and deploy the huge parachute at the precise moment.
Then another system will scan the surface, comparing the observations with the integrated maps.
I’m a science journalist and host of Cosmic Controversy (brucedorminey.podbean.com) as well as author of “Distant Wanderers: the Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System.” I primarily cover aerospace and astronomy. I’m a former Hong Kong bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and former Paris-based technology correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper who has reported from six continents. A 1998 winner in the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards (AJOYA), I’ve interviewed Nobel Prize winners and written about everything from potato blight to dark energy. Previously, I was a film and arts correspondent in New York and Europe, primarily for newspaper outlets like the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe and Canada’s Globe & Mail. Recently, I’ve contributed to Scientific American.com, Nature News, Physics World, and Yale Environment 360.com. I’m a current contributor to Astronomy and Sky & Telescope and a correspondent for Renewable Energy World. Twitter @bdorminey