Home Technology Summer 2020, the Martian breakaway – L’Orient-Le Jour

Summer 2020, the Martian breakaway – L’Orient-Le Jour

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This summer, Earthlings have a new big date with Mars: three exploration missions will fly to the red planet, the ultimate frontier for humanity which fuels the hope, more and more credible, of to detect signs of a past life there, and, in the future, to set foot there.

The cycle of celestial mechanics offers only one window of fire every 26 months, the distance between Mars and Earth being at this period shorter than usual, which makes the journey easier (55 million kilometers , about six months of travel all the same). Three countries are in the starting blocks. The United Arab Emirates will open the ball on July 15 by sending the first interplanetary Arab probe in history, al-Amal (“Hope”), to study the atmosphere of the planet. China will follow, which will also make its Martian baptism with Tianwen (“Questions in Heaven”), by sending a probe and a small remote-controlled robot, between July 20 and 25. The most ambitious, the American Mars 2020, will set off on July 30 to land a vehicle designed to explore its surface, the Perseverance rover, marking the start of a pharaonic program never before carried out of sampling, in view of their return to Earth. A key step in the quest for the living. A fourth Russian-European escape was planned, ExoMars and its drilling rig, but had to be postponed to 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This rush towards the red planet is not new: a real scientific nugget, our closest neighbor has hosted since the 1960s several dozen automatic probes, most of them American, in orbit or on the ground, many of which have failed. But since the 2000s and the discovery proving that liquid water had flowed on the surface, the attraction is increasing, and Mars has become the priority of space exploration. “It is the only planet where we have the chance to detect a form of past life, and the more we accumulate knowledge, the more the place is promising.” We feel that something exciting is approaching and that we have to be “, explains Michel Viso, exobiologist at CNES, the French space agency that designed one of the main instruments of the NASA Perseverance rover, the American space agency.

The United States, Europe, India, China, the United Arab Emirates, and in 2024 Japan which will send a probe to explore Phobos, one of the moons of Mars … As with the Moon, everyone is looking for to score points in this quest, to assert themselves as a scientific and spatial power. With another dream in mind, more distant: that of “contributing to the adventure of human exploration on Mars, which represents the ultimate frontier where man can go, in 20, 30 or 40 years” , analyzes Michel Viso.

The Perseverance rover will land on Mars in an unexplored environment, the Jezero crater, rich in sedimentary rocks and which shelters a delta-shaped relief attributed to the mouth of an ancient river flowing into a lake: the ideal site for to have trapped traces of a past life – of which liquid water and carbon are the two presuppositions. NASA / Handout / AFP

The objective of a manned flight on Mars is for the moment seriously envisaged only in the United States, the only ones to have launched detailed studies on the feasibility of such an adventure. But which other nations could join. The United Arab Emirates are considering, for example, the construction of a City of Sciences reproducing the environmental conditions of Mars, with a view to establishing a human colony by… 2117. The planet is only today an immense frozen desert, which slowly lost its dense atmosphere after a gigantic climate change, approximately 3.5 billion years ago, and is no longer protected from cosmic radiation. In short, nothing that makes it habitable as it is, nor that allows it to be transformed into an Earth twice.

But the question is first to know if it was inhabited in the past, when the conditions for a metabolic life (microbes for example) were met. “Four billion years ago, the conditions on the surface were very close to what was on Earth at the time when life appeared”, with a dense atmosphere, liquid water, notes Jorge Vago , scientific manager of ExoMars at the European Space Agency (ESA). So why is there life on Earth and, a priori, more on Mars – if there was any? This is the question that the various robots that have crisscrossed the surface are trying to answer, as NASA Curiosity currently does. Perseverance will complete the quest for the famous robot by landing in an unexplored environment, the Jezero crater, rich in sedimentary rocks and which shelters a delta-shaped relief attributed to the mouth of an ancient river flowing into a lake: the ideal site for having trapped traces of a past life – of which liquid water and carbon are the two presuppositions.

Source: AFP

This summer, Earthlings have a new big date with Mars: three exploration missions will fly to the red planet, the ultimate frontier for humanity which fuels the hope, more and more credible, of to detect signs of a past life there, and, in the future, to set foot there.

The cycle of celestial mechanics offers only a window of …

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