The craft discards pieces of the module as it descends, and these pieces can land in different locations on the Earth’s surface – there may be a lower heat shield in one place and a parachute in another. When this debris falls to the ground, it can break into smaller pieces, such as happened during the Perseverance rover landing in 2021. These small pieces can then be blown around by Martian winds.
Over the years, much small, wind-blown debris has been found, such as the neat material recently found. Earlier this year, on June 13, Perseverance rover spotted a large, shiny thermal blanket wedged into some rocks 2 kilometers from where the rover landed. Both Curiosity in 2012 and Opportunity in 2005 also encountered debris from their landing vehicles.
Dead and Crashed Spacecraft
The nine idle spacecraft on the surface of Mars form the following type of debris. These crafts are the March 3 country, March 6 country, Viking 1 country, Viking 2 lander, de sojourner robber, the previously lost beagle 2 landerthe phoenix lander, de Spirit rover and the most recently deceased spacecraft, the Opportunity bum. These are largely intact and should be regarded as historical relics rather than rubbish.
Wear and tear takes their toll on everything on the surface of Mars. Some parts of Curiosity aluminum wheels are broken and are believed to have been scattered along the rover’s trail. Some of the waste is targeted, with: Perseverance dropped a drill on the surface in July 2021, making it possible trade in a new pristine bit so it could keep collecting samples.
Crashed spacecraft and their pieces are another major source of waste. At least two spacecraft have crashed and another four have lost contact before or just after landing. Safely descending to the surface of the planet is the hardest part of any Mars landing mission – and it is doesn’t always end well.
If you add up the mass of all the spacecraft ever sent to Mars, you get about 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms). Subtract the weight of the currently operational craft on the surface — 6,306 pounds (2,860 kilograms) — and you’re left with 15,694 pounds (7,119 kilograms) of human debris on Mars.
Why is waste important?
Today, the biggest concern scientists have about debris on Mars is the risk it poses to current and future missions. The Perseverance teams document any debris they find and verify it could contaminate the monsters the rover collects. NASA engineers have also considered whether: Perseverance could get entangled in debris from the landing, but have concluded that the risk is low.
The real reason debris on Mars is important is because of its place in history. The spacecraft and their pieces are the early milestones for human planetary exploration.
Cagri Kilic is a postdoctoral researcher in robotics at West Virginia University.
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