Curiosity robot mission to Mars: “We have traveled a little more than 28 km in ten years”, explains a scientist


“We have traveled a little more than 28 km in ten years” on Mars, Olivier Gasnault explained on Friday, August 5 to franceinfo. He is the scientific manager in France of the Franco-American instrument ChemCam, one of the ten instruments of the Rover Curiosity that arrived on Mars ten years ago, on August 6, 2012. PODCAST >> Mars, the new odyssey activity of the Martian The robotic explorer has been extended again by NASA until September 2025. Curiosity will head to a new area of ​​the red planet to continue its explorations. franceinfo: Curiosity’s mission was supposed to last two years, but in the end ten years have passed and it will last until 2025. What’s going on? Olivier Gasnault: It is a significant investment and we are happy to be able to use it for so many years and to continue exploring the surface of Mars. The advantage of extending the mission is above all that we are at the foot of a mountain 5,000 m high and it is not about going to the top but the first layers tell us about the evolution of the environment on the surface of Mars . . Let’s try to understand the transition to a barren passage. Is this what is likely to happen to Earth with global warming? We are on very different geological time scales, the problem of the earth is much more immediate. The transformations on Mars go back far beyond the past and took place over many years, we are talking about millions of years. It is a more global change of the planet, including the magnetic field of the atmosphere and therefore the presence of water on the surface. How do you explain the longevity of this robot? We have teams of engineers who have developed great tools both on the Rover and instruments like ChemCam. The goal of two years was the minimum and to reach it we are forced to develop more robust techniques that allow this longevity. Now we want to pay attention to how we use these instruments to preserve them as long as possible. This is a gain for the scientific return of the whole community. What is the ChemCam instrument doing on Curiosity? It is a chemical camera that maps around the American Rover the chemical composition of the rocks that make up the Martian soil to understand this geological context. This helps to understand how rocks were transformed by water more than three billion years ago when life appeared on Earth and there was liquid water on the surface of Mars. The vision of ChemCam will be to understand the chemical composition of these rocks, what are their origins from the magmatic point of view, their transformation with water. We were able to show that there were several episodes with liquid water on the surface of Mars that transformed these rocks. How did you decide on the exploration area? This is work that was done before selecting the landing site to find a place where we would have a better chance of having interesting results about the fact that there was water, the place could have been habitable, and about the organization of the geological layers that make it. possible to establish a timeline. So we have limited travel capacity, no road, we’re very far away and we’re making a lot of observations as we go. We’ve traveled a little over 28 km in ten years, and it’s not about going somewhere else on Mars entirely. We continue our ascent up this mountain that allows us to advance in the history of Mars. We hope to explore a few million years across these few kilometers. What have we learned in ten years? The first result was to show the habitability of this region 3.6 billion years ago. If there had been a very simple single-celled life form, it could have survived in these conditions for a few million years. It has been shown that these environmental conditions have evolved into a drier climate, that water has moved underground. Now we are studying this transition, we have also been able to show that we may have had the appearance of a continent on the surface of Mars. Finally, there are studies of the modern atmosphere being done with a Spanish climate study instrument to see how it compares to the past climate of Mars and what the radiation conditions are at the surface.
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