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Mars: the box that wants to answer the biggest question

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Media titleDelicate operation: ALD is lowered into the body of the rover

Is it possible? Is there life on Mars?

From the probe, Mariner 4 made the first successful visit to the Red Planet – flight in July 1965 – we sent a series of missions that gave us all kinds of fascinating information about a nearby neighbor on Earth – but not the answer to just an issue that really matters.

So, consider the technology that can finally change the game.

This is a drawer for analytical laboratories, or an ALD-sophisticated three-in-one instrument box that will examine samples of rocks for chemical biological impressions.

On Thursday, it was gently lifted with a crane and lowered into the ExoMars "Rosalind Franklin" rover, a six-wheel buggy that would carry through the Oxyia plane to Mars in 2021.

A 300-pound robot, developed jointly by European and Russian space agencies, will have an exercise that can dig up to 2 million below the dusty surface of the planet.

The ore that pulls this tool will surrender to the door of the ALD, where the various mechanisms inside will crush and prepare powders that can be thrown into small glasses for analysis.

It will be a forensic examination, looking at all aspects of the composition of the samples.

All previous rovers turned the big question. They essentially just asked if the conditions of Mars today or in the past would be favorable for life – if ever it existed. They do not actually have the necessary equipment for truly discovering biomarkers.

Rosalind Franklin will be different. Its 54kg ALD was built specifically to look for those complex organic molecules that have their origin in the life processes.

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US rovers have determined that Mars is certainly fit for living – but was it inhabited?

Thursday's integration was slow and deliberate, understandable: ALD in many ways is a key element of the Rosalind Franklin mission.

"It's wonderful to see that the heart of the rover is now installed," said Sue Horn, head of space research at the UK space agency.

"The drawer for analytical laboratories is a key location for testing Mars samples on the rover, which allows us to understand geology and potentially identify signatures for life on Mars. I can not wait to see what discoveries lie in store for this British built rover ".

The engineers of Airbus UK are now working three shifts a day to complete the rover.

Although at the moment it does not look very much like a vehicle, virtually all components have now arrived at the Stevinage factory.

They sit on the shelves around the edge of the clean room in bags, waiting for their order in the congregation.

However, there are one or two outstanding items, including the British "eyes" of the rover.

This is a camera system, or PanCam, which will sit on top of the mast and direct the robot to his search for an investigation.

"We just held the ship review board this week, and PanCam was due to come to us in the next few days," said Chris Draper, flight operations manager for Airbus.

"We know that everything will go together, it's the beauty of system engineering. Every part of the rover is modeled in 3D, and each one works to link the control drawings. Before assuming we all do that, then we know that ALD, for example, fit perfectly into the rover. "

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Mariner 4 took the first images of Mars in the summer of 1965

Stevenage's team has a difficult deadline since early August to complete Rosalind Franklin from the door.

You must go to Toulouse's facility for a series of tests to ensure that the design is robust enough to handle the heavy shake experienced by the missile launch on Mars.

Then there are additional checks in France before being sent to the location of the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Launching should take place in July / August next year. This date is motionless: just go to Mars when it is aligned with the Earth, and the windows of opportunity have an interval of 26 months.

Rover's name: Who was Rosalin Franklin?

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Getty Images / ESA

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Rosalind Franklin Rover is a joint project of Europe and Russia

In 1952, Rosalind Franklin was at Royal College London (CCL), researching the atomic arrangement of DNA, using his skills as an X-ray crystal in order to create images for analysis.

One of her team's photos, known as Photo 51, provided essential insights for Creek and Watson to build the first three-dimensional model of the two-layer macromolecule.

It was one of the highest achievements of 20th century science, enabling scientists to finally understand how DNA is storing, copying and transmitting the genetic "code of life".

Crick, Watson and KCC colleague Maurice Wilkins received the 1962 Nobel Prize for the breakthrough.

The untimely death of Franklin meant that it could not be considered the prize (the Nobel Prizes were not awarded posthumously). However, many argue that its contribution is not at all devoted to the attention it deserves, and is even underlined.

  • BBC – In our time: Melvin Brag recalls the life of Rosalind Franklin

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