AFP / Greenbelt, USA
At 126 million miles of Earth, only in the red and cold dimensionality of Mars, a small 4×4 robot begins shortly after dawn.
Like every six years, wait for your instructions. Approximately 9:30 am, the time of Mars, comes the message that goes out of California a quarter of an hour before: 10 meters in advance, rotates to 45 degrees and continues automatically to that point.
The curiosity, as it is called, moves slowly, between 35 and 110 meters per hour, no more. Batteries and other limitations explain the daily journey about 100 meters, reaching a record of 220 meters.
Once there, 17 cameras capture the environment. His laser mocks the rocks. Faced with a particularly attractive stone, a sample of several grams is stopped.
Approximately 17:00 local time, the robot will wait for one of three NASA satellites to orbit around Mars to deliver their report: a few hundred megabits and then transfer to the main earth antennas of their human bosses.
Laboratory in miniature
On the ground floor of 34 NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, one hour from Washington, scientists are analyzing this data every day. In that big room with no windows of full instruments and computers, he searches for signs of life on Mars.
Interior curiosity is the miracle of miniaturization: a chemical microwave sized microwave lab, called SAM.
Charles Malespin, a deputy scientific team of curiosity, points out instruments in work plans: they are reduced and compacted within a robot.
This is the most complex instrument sent by NASA to another planet, says Malespin, who has devoted his professional life since 2006. SAM analyzes the samples by heating in the oven to 1000 ° C.
During cooking, stones and earth release gases. Then, these gases are separated and sent to the instruments that analyze them and attract the sample print.
In Goddard, French researcher Maeva Millan compares this chemical impression with those experiments performed on known molecules. When the curve imitates, she says: This is my good molecule.
Thanks to SAM, it is known that there are complex organic molecules on Mars and that the oldest surface of the planet is established, geologically much younger than the scientists.
If we want to go to Mars, it is useless to introduce the resources that already exist, Malespin adds, which refers, for example, to water. We can dig up the ground, warm up and release water; We just carry the oven, we'll have as much water as we want, "he says.
The same goes for different materials that could become fuel for the future missile service.
Without control stick
On the other hand, the United States, in the Propulsin a Chorro lab in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, has about 15 men and women who curiosity.
My favorite moments when I sit down to see the pictures posted from Mars, says Frank Hartman, who commands curiosity and another robot, Opportunity, dropped in June.
The driver's job is to plan a 24-hour and 40-minute Martial Day – from the robot and program the commands to adhere to it. Since you do not have a joystick or communication in real time, you are unlikely to pre-detect problems such as saturation of the opportunity or holes caused by rocky ground on the wheels of curiosity.
We have to keep in mind that we do not know much about this place, Hartman says. Over the years scientists and drivers have been attached to their robots. When Opportunity broke up after 14 years, Hartman and his teammates felt as though they were crying. He retires with honors, he says.
The curiosity has made 19.75 kilometers since 2012. One year should reach its goal: Mount Sharp. A few months later you lose your martial monopoly. It is expected that two American and European robots will land on the 2020 planet.