Nasa keeps finding its own trash on Mars

Jon Kelvey
Thursday 16 June 2022 22:35 BST
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Nasa’s Perseverance rover just stumbled across a piece of foil from the descent stage that brought the rover to the Red Planet in 2021.
Nasa’s Perseverance rover just stumbled across a piece of foil from the descent stage that brought the rover to the Red Planet in 2021. (Nasa/JPL)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Nasa’s Perseverance rover recently ran into a surprise — a piece of shiny foil stuck to a rock on the Red Planet.

As Nasa tweeted from an account dedicated to the Perseverance rover, the team behind the rover mission thinks it’s likely a piece of a thermal blanket from the descent stage rocket that landed Perseverance on the Martian surface in 2021. But they don’t really know how it got to where it is now, a whopping two miles from where the rover landed.

It’s not the first time Nasa has come across the detritus of its own operations on Mars. In April, the Ingenuity helicopter that arrived on Mars with Perseverance came across the descent stage and landing gear that brought them both to the surface of the Red Planet. It’s the likely source of the piece of thermal blanket Perseverance just came across.

All of the missions that have reached the surface of Mars have left material on the surface, including Nasa’s now defunct Opportunity and Spirit rovers, and the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander that crashed on Mars in 2016. Nasa’s sample return mission, scheduled to bring samples of Martian soil back to Earth in the early 2030s, is the only mission currently scheduled to bring anything back from the Martian surface.

Nasa goes to great lengths to ensure its hardware is sterilized before flying to Mars to prevent biological contamination by Earth microbes, but spent piece of hardware are, for the time being, often necessary for getting spacecraft to the surface of other worlds.

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