Take a Walk With NASA "Week 7" Mars Robotic Doctor

in #steemstem4 years ago

Insight to Mars

So, Insight has launched (see below), and the first from the West Coast. But Why? NASA rockets normally launch from Florida where they can fly safely over the ocean and take advantage of the rotational speed boost from the Earth's rotation. This saves on fuel as well as money. Since Insight was based on the Phoenix lander previously launched to Mars in 2007, it would have launched using a Delta II rocket from United Launch Alliance (Mandelbaum, 2018). This was not possible, however, as these rockets were retiring. The next best thing was to use United Launch Alliance's smallest rocket: the Atlas V-401. Since the Atlas V is more powerful than a Delta II, there was no need for the added rotational boost from Earth. With the launch window better at Vandenburg AFB, it was more practical to launch from there (NASA, 2018).

Video Credit: Space Videos

The Insight Robotic Mission is like sending a robotic doctor to check up on Mars. It's scheduled to touch down on Mar's equator where it will probe the planet just as a doctor would to determine your health. The below video is a simplistic explanation of this process.

Video Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

So as you can see, there will be a lot of seismology research being done on Mars soon. This will include heat flow from within, measurements to detect how Mars wobbles as it spins on its axis, and give scientists a clearer understanding of how rocky planets form. This is not just a NASA project, however. NASA continues to work with other space agencies in joint ventures to study the universe. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument is provided by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales. The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen, Germany has provided contributions towards this effort. The German Aerospace Center provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument which will drill 16 feet into Mars to determine heat flow from within Mars (NASA, 2018). Research from this study may confirm that Mars and Earth were created from the same planet-forming material (NASA, n.d.).

Soil Return Mission

Two weeks ago, NASA and the European Space Agency signed off on working together to bring Mars soil back to Earth. This will be no easy task and will require three missions to even be successful. First, the Mars 2020 Rover will have to successfully land on Mars and collect the samples. 21 canisters would be used to store these samples before they are transferred to a second rover sent to retrieve them. This rover would then travel to a Mars Ascent Vehicle which would launch into Mars orbit and wait for an incoming Earth entering vehicle. Once back at Earth, the samples would be put into quarantine before analysis begins (ESA, 2018).

This seems like a complicated mission, and it is. The timing of each of these missions are critical and losing a launch window or having something go wrong jeopardizes the entire mission. Below is an illustration of what happens if a launch is miscalculated.

Photo Credit: NASA

This is only one of many scenarios that could happen. Should the rover sent to retrieve the canisters crash land, it would take several years to both build and resend this rover for a second try. Without proper trajectory corrections, it could miss Mars completely. For the Insight mission, six trajectory corrections will be needed. Add something going wrong with the Mars Ascent Vehicle and you can understand how the complication multiplies. Let's add one last factor: contamination of the samples. The canisters which would store the soil samples must be entirely sterile of Earth-related contamination or follow-up studies would include such material.

Imagine that everything goes correctly. This would demonstrate the capability to launch, recover, and relaunch a mission back to Earth. This is exactly what is needed to support colonization for Mars if they are to survive, at least for the short term. This brings me to my final thought. Who is going to Mars? As I teach my space course, I stress to my students that they, their children, or their grandchildren will likely be involved with space by either supporting it or living/working in space. Today on Facebook, I met a young lady who plans on doing just that: living on Mars. Her name is Alyssa Carson and she's only 17 years old. Please watch her video as it's very inspiring to see youth as focused as this.

Video credit: UPROXX

I hope you have enjoyed this week's update. Do you have a dream? Do you have the drive to make it happen? Alyssa does and you can too. Whatever your dream is, reach for it and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it.



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