Sci­en­tists down­play Mars lan­der trou­bles

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD -

BERLIN — Sci­en­tists at the Euro­pean Space Agency down­played the likely loss of its Mars lan­der, say­ing Thurs­day that a wealth of data sent back by the ex­per­i­men­tal probe would help them pre­pare for a fu­ture mis­sion to the red planet.

The Schi­a­par­elli lan­der was de­signed mainly to test tech­nol­ogy for a Euro­pean ro­botic mis­sion to Mars in 2020 and avoid the fate of Europe’s Bea­gle 2 probe, which failed to de­ploy af­ter land­ing in 2003.

Data re­ceived from Schi­a­par­elli show that it en­tered the at­mos­phere as planned Wed­nes­day and used its para­chute to suc­cess­fully slow down in the harsh Mar­tian at­mos­phere, but its sig­nal was lost shortly be­fore the ex­pected touch­down.

Ex­perts said the probe may have de­scended too fast or too slowly and hoped that about 600 megabytes of data sent back to Earth would pro­vide an­swers. The data are equiv­a­lent to about 400,000 pages of in­for­ma­tion.

“The ex­per­i­men­tal test has yielded a huge amount of data, and clearly we’re go­ing to have to an­a­lyze this in the days and weeks to come, but it gives us a lot of con­fi­dence for the fu­ture,” said David Parker, ESA’s di­rec­tor of hu­man space­flight and ro­botic ex­plo­ration.

Get­ting a space­craft onto Mars is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult, and the planet is lit­tered with the re­mains of failed at­tempts. Only NASA has re­peat­edly suc­ceeded.

The ap­par­ent fail­ure to achieve what rocket sci­en­tists call a “soft land­ing” marred an oth­er­wise suc­cess­ful start to the Ex­oMars mis­sion, a joint ven­ture be­tween ESA and Rus­sian space agency Roscos­mos.

ESA chief Jan Wo­erner noted that Schi­a­par­elli’s mother ship was put into or­bit around Mars as planned. The Trace Gas Or­biter will an­a­lyze the at­mos­phere in or­der to help de­ter­mine whether there is A model of the Euro­pean Space Agency’s Mars lan­der. life on Mars.

ESA’s mem­ber states are ex­pected to de­cide in the com­ing months whether to pay the es­ti­mated $330 mil­lion needed for the sec­ond part of the Ex­oMars mis­sion in 2020.

THOMAS KIENZLE/GETTY-AFP

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