European Space Agency’s Mars Lander Suffers Fatal Impact
As the world's space agencies such as NASA and private space exploration companies like SpaceX look to Mars, it is important to remember Mars can be a very uncooperative planet. 44 missions have targeted Mars from various space agencies and 23 have been complete failures and 3 have been partial failures. The good news is only 1 of the last 10 missions sent was a complete failure and only 2 were partial failures. Unfortunately, the European Space Agency’s or ESA has given us a reminder of how difficult Mars can be with their most recent attempt.
One of the reasons Mars is so difficult is because it has an atmosphere that is both too thick and too thin. Because there is an atmosphere, even a thin one, anything attempting a landing needs a heat shield to break through without burning up. On the other hand, parachutes don’t slow the craft down enough, because the atmosphere is too thin and there is not enough drag to slow it down for a landing. Because of this you need a power descent. A power descent is some form propulsion that will slow the craft down to a safe landing speed.
The ESA’s Schiaparelli spacecraft was attempting a landing on Mars when they lost contact with it about a minute for expected landing. Engineers and scientists concluded that the thrusters turned off during the power descent a few kilometers above the ground. This caused the craft to hit the ground at around 186 miles per hour. This outcome was confirmed by a NASA orbiter around Mars that was able to take photos of the crash site. The photos are rather blurry but you can see a large black spot at that is the presumed crash site. The ESA plans to take photos with a better camera in the coming weeks, but this is not a simple task. Thankfully, an orbiter which was delivered with the lander is successfully orbiting Mars, and the ESA expects it to complete its portion of the mission.
The world should not let this fumble discourage future exploration and missions. All failures should be taken seriously, using the critical mistakes to expand on our knowledge for future trips.
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