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Travel to the heart of the red planet to listen to your vital signs



"It's good to renew our astonishing capacity," said the philosopher, "the interplanetary journey returned to us in childhood."

The phrase, which precedes the traditional edition of Ray Bradbury's classic
Chroniclesarcianas (Minotauro, 1976, Borges' leader) is very appropriate to wait for the ineffable meeting that will happen today in the space of space. At 17 years after local time, after traveling for more than six months, the NASA Insight investigation will land on Mars surface to launch a two-year mission to Earth that will allow us to understand the processes that shaped rocky planets on Earth. The solar system (Mars, Venus, Mercury, and also Earth) itself 4,500 million years ago.

"It's a static boat, not a rover, like Viking – explains an experienced Argentine engineer Miguel San Martin, who after directing four successful descent into our cosmic neighbor, is part of a group of advisors who oversaw the design and testing of this mission – now, most of the probes and satellites have focused on studying the surface and discovering whether there was or ever been life on Mars, it has nothing to do with it, but by exploring the interior: The Red Planet has no powerful magnetic field like the Earth, which is fundamentally z a plan to protect the atmosphere of the solar wind. "

"Why did you lose it?" It is a mystery, on the other hand, the Earth is so active planet that the evidence of its formation is already contaminated, whereas where things are not so dynamic, we can better analyze them. It's like studying the Earth's past on Mars and understanding why they are differentiating, "he adds.

The planets of the Solar System were formed from a disc of rocks, ice, and debris that orbited our home star. Mars is by far the most well-known in the Earth, but astronomers practically know nothing about the interior. So far, the multiple missions that were followed, since in 1971, NASA sent its first orbiter, Mariner 9 (who returned us 7300 images from his surface and his two moons, Phobos and Damos), analyzed his atmosphere, recorded their storm from dust and demanded (without success) signs of life.

With the launch, originally planned for 2016, which was due to be delayed due to vacuum leakage in one of the landing module modules, Insight (corresponding to "Internal research using seismic research, geodesy and heat transport")) carries three main instruments.

A seismograph will hear small vibrations on the earth, nanometer fractions (billions of meters), seismic waves traveling across the planet, and making it possible to create a 3D image of its interior.

An exercise will take about five meters from the ocean to analyze the heat coming from the depths and give an idea of ​​its activity. And another experiment will try to determine very accurately how much the north pole of Mars is "moved" while orbiting the Sun. These observations will provide detailed information about the size of the core of Mars, rich in iron, and help determine whether it is liquid and what else contains elements.

"The most interesting thing about these missions is that they allow us to understand our world more," said Diego Bagu, an astronomer at the National University of La Plata and director of the Planetarium in that city. "This is the first time we can wake up the Earth Mars and find out if it has seismic motions and how it is like a heat flux, although there is no bark fracture like the one that represents the Earth and there is no motion of tectonic plates, there may be geological activity because of the impact of meteorites, for example, by studying how seismic waves spread, will enable us to know how the interior is on the planet. "

Seven minutes from terror

Once it arrives at the destination, Insight will take one of the key phases of the entire mission: deploying its solar panels. Thus, with about one meter in height and 360 kilograms in weight, it will reach six meters in length (equal to half to two-thirds of the length of the collective). With these "wings" you can engage the sun's rays (which at that distance shine 50% less than on Earth) to give them energy to the instruments.

Unlike other probes, you will need to use an articulated robotic arm to slowly place the instruments on the surface, a process that will last about three months.

But for all this to happen, it must first overcome the "entry, descent and landing" sequence (EDL), an operation that makes the adrenaline flow to the control center because, although this has been done repeatedly, it is not Absolutely guaranteed.

"Although Usat is an almost identical copy of the 2007 Phoenix and we know that the design is solid, there can always be a mistake in the workforce," San Martin, a veteran of these laws, claims. but sometimes something happens to us. The atmosphere of Mars varies depending on the seasons, as it happens here. The pressure can be increased or decreased. When it's less dense, the landing becomes more complicated. And there may be a storm of dust. For this reason, NASA's Laboratory for Jet Propulsion (JPL) monitoring followed the approach that tried to make a forecast for the key moment, because in theory the parameters of the descent system could change to make it stronger. for example, we had a disturbed atmosphere and made small adjustments to maximize the chances of success, "he adds.

In fact, at the last moment of yesterday, the Insight team decided to make the last correction of the trajectory to move the landing goal about 16 kilometers.

In addition, there are other obstacles. So that the ship can go down correctly, it must enter the correct angle: if it is too steep, it can burn; if, on the contrary, it is too open, it will bounce off the atmosphere and remain floating in space.

"In about six and a half minutes the module will go at a speed of nearly 20,000 kilometers per hour to eight," says Bagu, "and he must enter through a" window "of about 10 kilometers to 20 on each side, a smaller area of ​​the city" .

Although the atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than the ground, at the entrance the module must be protected from friction with a thermal shield ready to withstand more than 1300 ° C. Then, it will deploy its paratrooper and about 40 seconds before contacting the ground, will separated from both, will extend the legs and luminaires 12 buttons to lower the downhill speed and seat on the surface known as Elysium Planitia, chosen because it is dusty and flat and is relatively free of rocks.

Marco Polo on Mars

Another innovation on this mission is that the probe travels accompanied by two miniatellites (or
cubes) of the approximate size of the shoe, MarCO-A and MarCO-B (which the mission technicians call Marco / Polo), who will be obliged to offer communication services to the ground, since the module continues to operate the stage after the landing, and they are evidence of the concept that will be used to explore the interplanetary space.

"In 1999, a ship told us" Chow, we look at the surface, "and we've never heard of it again," said San Martin, "so NASA predicts that any origin must have telemetry so that if it fails, it can be determined that It does not work well and fix it in later trips. Usually we have spacecraft that are in orbit and they make us
relay. Insight brings these two
cubes which are separated after the launch and go in parallel, but from behind. While landing, these small satellites will receive the signal and follow it to the Earth. And it's good that if it works, we will not have to worry that Mars always has a satellite "alive" in the exact geometry for the landing. "

Contrary to what can be imagined, the international success rate on decks is not high, about 40%. "Sometimes it seems that these things are already routine," Bago concludes, "but in reality they are an exceptional challenge."


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