European lander heads for Mars surface
EUROPE has sent a tiny lander on a three-day, 1-million-kilometre (621,000-mile) trek to the Martian surface to test-drive technology for a daring mission to scout the Red Planet for evidence of life.
There were nervous moments for ground controllers when the unmanned mothership, dubbed Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), stopped sending status updates just as it despatched the paddle pool-sized lander, Schiaparelli, on its way on October 16.
“Everything is back on track,” spokesperson Jocelyne LandeauConstantin of the European Space Operations Centre told AFP after an anxious hour of resetting commands and waiting for a response.
There were “a lot of relieved people” at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, she added – some 175 million kilometres (109 miles) from where the space manoeuvre was executed.
The TGO and Schiaparelli, launched into space in March, comprise phase one of a joint EuropeanRussian Mars-probing mission named ExoMars.
As planned, the 600-kilogram (1300-pound) Schiaparelli separated from its mothership after a sevenmonth, 496-million-kilometre trek from Earth. It is scheduled to arrive on Mars tomorrow.
ExoMars is Europe’s first attempt at reaching the planet’s hostile surface after its first failed bid 13 years ago to place the first nonAmerican rover on Mars.
The TGO’s job will be to sniff the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxiderich atmosphere for gases possibly excreted by living organisms, however small or primitive. –