Science

The Curiosity robot mission on Mars: “In ten years we have traveled a little more than 28 km,” the scientist explains

“We traveled a little over 28 km on Mars in ten years,” Olivier Gasnot explained on Friday, August 5, on the Franceinfo website. He is the science manager in France of the Franco-American ChemCam instrument, one of ten instruments on the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars a decade ago on August 6, 2012.

PODCAST >> Mars, a new odyssey

The activity of the Martian explorer robot has once again been extended by NASA until September 2025. Curiosity will head to a new area of ​​the red planet to continue its exploration.

franceinfo: The Curiosity mission was supposed to last two years, but in the end, ten years have passed, and it will last until 2025. What’s next?

Olivier Gasnot: This is a major investment and we are happy to be able to use it for so many years and continue to explore the surface of Mars. The advantage of extending the mission is, in particular, that we are at the foot of a 5000 m high mountain and climbing to the top is out of the question, but the first layers tell us about the evolution of the environment on the surface of Mars. . We are trying to understand the transition to the arid passage.

Is this what is likely to happen to the Earth with global warming?

We live on very different geological time scales, the problem of land is much more pressing. The transformations on Mars go much further back and have been going on for many years, we are talking about millions of years. This 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 durability of this robot?

We have teams of engineers who have developed great tools for both Rover and tools like ChemCam. The goal of two years was the minimum, and in order to achieve it, we are obliged to develop more reliable methods that provide such durability. Now we want to pay attention to how we use these tools to keep them as long as possible. This is a win for the scientific return of the entire community.

What does the Curiosity ChemCam do?

This is a chemistry chamber that maps around the American rover the chemical composition of the rocks that make up the Martian soil in order to understand the geological context. This helps to understand how rocks were transformed by water more than three billion years ago, when life appeared on Earth and liquid water existed on the surface of Mars. ChemCam’s vision will be to understand the chemical composition of these rocks, what their origin is from a magmatic point of view, their transformation by water. We were able to show that there were several episodes of liquid water on the Martian surface that transformed these rocks.

How did you decide on the reconnaissance area?

This is the work that was done prior to the selection of the landing site, to find the place where we had the best chance of getting interesting results about the fact that there was water, this place could be habitable, and about the organization of the geological layers that makes it you can set the chronology.

In addition, we have limited travel options, no road, we are very far away and make a lot of observations along the way. We have covered just over 28 km in ten years, and it is out of the question to go to a completely different place on Mars. We continue to climb this mountain, which allows us to move forward in the history of Mars. We hope to explore several 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 were a very simple single-celled life form, it could survive under these conditions for several million years. It was shown that these environmental conditions turned into a drier climate, that the water went underground. We are now studying this transition, we have also been able to show that we may have had the emergence of a continent on the surface of Mars.

Finally, there are studies of the modern atmosphere, which are carried out with the help of a Spanish climate instrument, to see how it compares to the past climate of Mars and what the radiation conditions are on the surface.

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