(ORDO NEWS) — Humans have been exploring the surface of Mars for over 50 years. Countries have sent 18 objects to Mars in 14 separate missions, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
Many of these missions are still ongoing, but over the decades of exploration of Mars, humanity has left a lot of debris on the surface of the planet.
There are three main sources of debris on Mars: discarded equipment, inactive spacecraft, and crashed probes.
Every mission to the surface of Mars requires a module to protect the spacecraft. This module includes a heat shield for passing the craft through the planet’s atmosphere, as well as a parachute and landing equipment.
When descending, the ship drops parts of the module, and they can end up in different places on the surface of the planet.
As debris hits the surface, it can shatter into smaller fragments, as happened during the landing of the Perseverance rover in 2021.
Over the years, a lot of small debris has been found – for example, in mid-August 2022, Perseverance discovered a tangled net thrown out during landing.
On June 13, 2022, the rover discovered a large, shiny thermal blanket 2 km from where it landed. Both Curiosity in 2012 and Opportunity in 2005 also encountered lander debris.
There are nine inactive spacecraft on the surface of Mars: the modules Mars 3, Mars 6, Viking 1, Viking 2, Beagle 2, Phoenix and the rovers Sojourner, Spirit and the recently deceased Opportunity. Perhaps it is more correct to consider them historical relics, and not garbage.
Some debris left on purpose: In July 2021, Perseverance dropped a drill bit to the surface and replaced it with a new one to continue collecting samples.
Crashed spaceships and their debris are another source of debris. At least two spacecraft crashed and four more lost contact before or shortly after landing. A safe descent to the planet’s surface is the hardest part of any Mars landing mission, and it doesn’t always end well.
Debris on Mars is a risk to current and future missions. The Perseverance teams document all the debris they find and check to see if any of it could contaminate the samples the rover collects.
The engineers also considered whether the debris could interfere with Perseverance’s landing, but concluded that there was little risk.
Scientists note that debris on Mars is also part of history. Spacecraft and their parts are the first milestones in human exploration of other planets.
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