Mars the ultimate destination
From a small child, space has always fascinated me. My nine-year-old self fixated on watching Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century and wanted to be in space, to explore the universe!
Mars was going to be my destination, that's what I thought back then but that never happened. Technology ground to a halt in terms of getting people to the planets in my lifetime. Only now are things about to change.
Brought about by the renewed optimism from Elon Musk and his Space X company which is driving innovation forward. The humans might even get there within 10 years! Although I wouldn't bet my mortgage on it.
This week is one of the most pivotal weeks I think, in mars becoming a destination for humans. The latest NASA rover Perseverance is about to land on the red planet. Also, two other spacecraft have arrived at mars in the last few days from China & UAE, more about them later.
But at 8.48 pm on 18th February 2021, the NASA spacecraft with the rover inside will start to make its descent through the Martian atmosphere to land at Jethro crater. Seven minutes of terror they call it, this is how long it will take to land where everything has to work like clockwork, it will feel like an age.
Did you know it takes over 11minutes for someone on earth to hear you scream into your radio! That's how long the signal takes to go from Mars back to earth.
With a successful landing, the rover will then explore the area in and around the crater. It will collect samples, take plenty of video and pictures, drill into the rock and fly a helicopter. Yes, it has one of those onboard a first for another planet.
There are 19 cameras aboard the rover and all raw and processed images/video will be available to download from their website. You will also be able to download the sounds of mars from two of the microphones that are onboard.
They hope to get the first images within 6 hours of landing.
Why Jethro Crater?
The crater is a 28-mile basin in the northern hemisphere, it is thought to be an old river bed delta and may have ancient sediments. The rover will be looking for signs of these microbial lifeforms and any preserved organic molecules.
This will be the first Nasa Mars mission — since the Viking landers in the 1970s — to look directly for signs of life.
Humans would inevitably follow the robots at some stage
Nasa’s head of science, Dr Thomas Zurbuchen.
Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE)
One of my favourite bits of kit on the rover and why I think it is a critical week is a device called MOXIE. It basically sucks in the Martian atmosphere which contains 96% carbon dioxide and its output is O2 oxygen. Its a technology demonstration and if the device works it will be a major advancement in getting humans to Mars quicker. The reason being it is expensive taking the fuel with you to Mars for your return journey. If you could create the fuel on the planet then this will have a major factor in the economics. Plus oxygen can be used to breathe. I will go into much more detail in a future post about technical aspects of the device. Plus how the experiments go with MOXIE on the rover.
In the meantime, you can watch the landing coverage on NASA’s JPL YouTube channel on Thursday evening in the UK. Also, check out this link for some cool animations of the landing and various other aspects of the rover.
Did you know there is two other spacecraft that have arrived at mars this week? A mission by the United Arab Emirates called Hope the satellite will be put in a polar orbit of the planet. It will map the weather on mars over a full year.
Another mission which arrived 2 days ago is a Chinese mission called Tianwen-1 which also has an orbiter and a rover. It will orbit the planet first looking for suitable destinations to land maybe do this sometime in the summer.
It's also a big week at Space X with the test launch of starship 10. A future version of this will eventually get to Mars in a couple of years time.
So lots of stuff is happening and Space X is more nimble than NASA so the future is finally looking brighter for space travel. Maybe my nine-year-old self would be excited at what is about to happen as I was back in 1979.
The future is here reach out and grab it…
Leave a comment below if you are looking forward to the landing and whether you think this will be the catalyst to push humans towards mars.