A NASA helicopter took pictures of the wreckage of a rover that landed on Mars. This is yet another example of how humans pollute other worlds.

A NASA helicopter took pictures of the wreckage of a rover that landed on Mars. This is yet another example of how humans pollute other worlds.

A NASA helicopter took pictures of the wreckage of a rover that landed on Mars.  This is yet another example of how humans pollute other worlds.
  • A NASA helicopter captured photos of the equipment that helped the Perseverance rover land on Mars in 2021.
  • Images show debris, including an abandoned parachute, on the floor of the planet’s Jezero crater.
  • Space waste, left behind by humans in orbit or on other planets, is of increasing concern to space agencies.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter captured a birds-eye view of man-made space junk on another planet – the landing gear that helped it, and the Perseverance rover, get to the red planet.

The 4-pound Ingenuity helicopter, the first aircraft to take flight on another world, has located and captured photos of the wreckage of an orange and white parachute covered in dust and a rear hull – or the protective cover, which stored the chute – from 26 feet in the air. The photos, which NASA shared on Wednesday, were taken on the one-year anniversary of Ingenuity’s first foray into the Martian skies on April 19, 2021.

Tasked with searching for signs of ancient life, Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, after a 300 million kilometer journey that took seven months.

The Mars 2020 descent stage lowers NASA's Perseverance rover to the Red Planet on February 18, 2021.

NASA’s Perseverance rover descends on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Officials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement that the landing gear held up quite well. The back shell acted as a heat shield for the SUV-sized Perseverance (and the helicopter nestled in its belly) throughout its long journey from Earth. During its descent to the Martian surface, the rover deployed a parachute to slow it down and block landing at Jezero Crater, home to what was once an ancient river delta.

While the back shell ended up in pieces after a spirited dive at around 78 miles per hour, its protective coating and the lines connecting it to the parachute appear intact. Only a third of the 70-foot-wide chute is visible in Ingenuity footage, but “the canopy shows no signs of damage from supersonic airflow during inflation,” the agency said in a statement. statement, adding: “Several weeks of analysis will be necessary for a more definitive verdict.”

Since both pieces of hardware worked as expected, the researchers hope that studying the components that enabled a safe landing can help them plan future space missions. “Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to landing,” said Ian Clark, a former Perseverance systems engineer who now leads the effort. to bring Martian samples back to Earth at JPL in Southern California. in a report.

“If they reinforce that our systems worked as we think they did or provide even a data set of technical information that we can use for planning the return of samples to Mars, that will be amazing. . And otherwise, the images are always phenomenal and inspiring.”

The dilemma of high-flying waste

Perseverance's backshell, supersonic parachute and a debris field

The rear hull of the Perseverance rover amid a debris field, April 19, 2022. NASA officials say the hardware held up well.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space debris – artifacts left behind by humans in our orbit or on other celestial bodies, including defunct satellites, burnt-out boosters, screwdrivers, parachutes and other remnants of human space exploration – are a growing concern for space agencies. As more and more satellites are steadily launched into space, Earth’s orbit becomes increasingly crowded. The problem gets worse every year as old satellites and other objects collide, generating thousands of pieces of debris and setting off a chain reaction of collisions. This congestion of satellites around the Earth increases the risk of orbital collisions and jeopardizes future space exploration.

“Protection of the expanding space environment is essential,” concluded a report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General in January last year. “Services that billions of people rely on daily, such as weather forecasting, telecommunications and global positioning systems, require a stable space environment.”

Yet restrictions protecting space from pollution are rare. “My concern and my fear is that in 20 years it will be very dangerous to go into space because of pollution,” Ram Jakhu, associate professor and acting director of the Institute, told Wired last year. McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law.

“We have polluted the Earth left, right and center. We will do the same in space. There must be a revival or things are going to get serious.”

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