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Sol Journal – November 4th

November 4, 2016

Little helpers on Mars

Mars is the only planet that inhabited by robots. Since the year 1960 humans have tried to send their spacecraft to the red planet. The most unlucky country to reach the planet was Soviet Union. It had 17 tries and only 3 successful. However, at the same time the USSR studied Venus very well. Even though Venus is called the sister of Earth, because it has very similar size and composition, to describe its atmosphere, the perfect word would be “the hell”. There are acid rains, lighting, which are called “the electric dragon of Venus”, the dense air pressure, 96,5%  of carbon dioxide, the heavy greenhouse effect and the temperature on the surface of 740 К (467 °C). Considering all those obstacles the Russian spacecraft landed on Venus with no problems, and worked for a few hours. Whereas on Mars we have thin atmosphere, examined sites for landing and still the luckiest and experienced country is USA. The statistics are 21 tries and 15 successful.

What do NASA know that other countries are missing? Specially, with the latest news about the crash of ESA’s Schiaparelli lander on Martian surface, space agencies are still trying to figure out why red planet is so hostile. Yet hostile not to all. The Opportunity rover has become a part of Martian history already since it has explored the planet for more than 13 years. When you think that it still works without any major maintenance, taking into account the hazardous environment and compare it to average cars, which have to get serviced every year to work smoothly. This is what amazes us and gives a great credit to the engineering team. There is also another rover rolling the Martian dunes and singing once a year to itself a lonely birthday song – the Curiosity. Up in the Martian sky you will see several orbiters watching you. The latest ones are American Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution (MAVEN) and Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). India is a unique country for screwing up all Martian spacecraft statistics, which I mentioned before, and showing that you can successfully send an orbiter to Mars with the first attempt and with less money and time spent. Therefore, is there a one recipe for the perfect way to orbit and land on the red planet? We have at least 10 more years to find it out!

Not far from MDRS three space agencies have set up their camps for field tests of their rovers. For this special occasion, we were out of simulation in order to visit our neighbors. The UK space agency tests rover with PanCam, which later will be mounted on ExoMars. The Canadian space agency tests a sampling rover, which will be able to return the samples back to a simulated Earth return vehicle. The German space agency’s rover reminded us of a spider, which can climb the Martian hills, collect samples and get refilled with new batteries brought by a smaller rover helper.

Rovers, orbiters, and landers have become human senses on Mars. After the first astronauts, cosmonauts or taikonauts land on the red planet and start to explore it, they will get their personal little helpers. Robots will play a crucial part of successful human existence on Mars. Moreover, we still try to understand this balance in human-robot relationship, the concept of new world we started to live in so sudden – the world, where gadgets became part and parcel of our lives. It is a big risk to hand your life over to a machine, but without taking this risk, we won’t be able to pave the way into solar system and further!