MADRID, Sep. 21 (EUROPA PRESS) –
The surface of Mars already harbors more than seven tons of garbage from half a century of robotic exploration of the red planet.
The calculation has been obtained by Cagri Kilic, Postdoctoral researcher in Robotics at the University of West Virginia, from analysis of 18 human-made objects bound for Mars on 14 separate missionsaccording to data from the United Nations Outer Space Office.
When you add up the mass of all the spacecraft that have ever been sent to Mars, you get about 9,979 kilograms. Subtracting the weight of the ships currently operating on the surface, which is 2,860 kilos, a total of 7,119 kilos of human waste is obtained on Mars.
Debris on Mars comes from three main sources: discarded hardware, idle spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.
Each mission to the Martian surface requires a module to protect the spacecraft. This module includes a heat shield for when the spacecraft passes through the planet’s atmosphere and a parachute and landing hardware so it can land smoothly.
The ship discards parts of the module as it descends, and these parts can land in different places on the planet’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, as happened during the landing of the Perseverance rover in 2021. These small pieces can blow away due to the Martian winds.
Over the years, a lot of small windblown debris has been found, such as the netting material that was recently found. Earlier in the year, on June 13, 2022, the Perseverance rover detected a large, bright thermal blanket embedded in some rocks 2 km from where the rover landed. Both Curiosity in 2012 and Opportunity in 2005 also found debris from their landers..
The nine dormant spacecraft on the surface of Mars are the Mars 3 lander, the Mars 6 lander, the Viking 1 lander, the Viking 2 lander, the Sojourner rover, the previously lost Beagle 2 lander , the Phoenix lander, the Spirit rover, and the most recently disabled spacecraft, the Opportunity rover. Mostly intact, they are better considered historical relics than trash, according to the author of the study in an article published in The Conversation.
Crashed spaceships and their parts are another major source of garbage. At least two spacecraft have crashed and four others have lost contact before or just after landing. Descending safely to the planet’s surface is the hardest part of any Mars landing mission, and it doesn’t always end well.