Saturday , June 25 2022

How to run a robot on Mars


Some 78 million miles (126 million miles) from the ground alone on the huge and ugly Red Planet, a robot, resembles a small 4×4 just after the sunrise. And just as it has every day for the past six years, it is waiting for its instructions.

At 9:30 PM, a message from California will arrive, where it was sent 15 minutes earlier. "Drive forward 10 meters, turn to an azimuth of 45 degrees, now turn on your autonomous capacity and drive."

Curiosity rover performs the commands, moving slowly to their chosen position, with a maximum speed of 35 to 110 meters per hour. The batteries and other configurations limit their daily driving voltage to about 100 meters. The most curiosity has rolled on Mars in one day is 220 meters.

When it arrives, its 17 cameras take shot from its surroundings. Its laser zaps stones. Other tools on board drill into a particularly interesting rock to study small samples.

Approximately 5 pm in March, one of NASA's three satellites will wreck the planet to pass overhead. Curiosity then sends several hundred megabytes of scientific data through large earth antennas to their human master on earth.

A miniature lab

On the ground floor of building 34 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, scientists run on curiosity data every day at 13.00 in a large windowless space full of scientific instruments and computers.

The researchers are looking for any indication of life on Mars.

Within Curiosity is a "wonder of miniaturization," says Charles Malespin, Assistant Research Researcher at Mars (SAM), a chemist lab, a microwave. "It's the most complicated instrument NASA has ever sent to another planet."

SAM analyzes samples of martian soil by heating them in an oven that reaches 1000 Celsius. The hot stones release gas, which is separated and analyzed by instruments that offer a "fingerprint test".

In Goddard, Maeva Millan, a French postdoctoral scientist, compares this chemical fingerprint to experiments performed on known molecules. When they resemble each other, she can say, "Oh, that's the right molecule."

It is thanks to SAM that researchers know that there are complex organic molecules on Mars.

And SAM has helped researchers learn that the martian surface – geologically speaking – is much younger than previously thought.

"If you're going to Mars, you do not want to bring things that are already there to use for resources," like water, says Malespin. "If you want to mining the soil and warm it up and let go of the water, you can bring a big oven with you and you have all the water you want."

The same applies to different materials that can be used to make rocket fuel, so that Red Planet can act as a future gas station for rockets.

No joystick

On the other side of the United States, in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, about two dozen men and women make up the law that drives curiosity.

"My favorite part of the day (when is it) I start sitting and start looking at the pictures from Mars and understand where the rover is currently," says Frank Hartman, who has driven both curiosity and another older robber, Opportunity. "And my feeling is that sometimes I'm probably the first person on earth to look at some of these pictures."

The master task of the marsh drivers is to write the sequence of commands for the rover to follow the next sun or "day" on Mars, lasting 24 hours and almost 40 minutes. There is no joystick, and no real-time communication with the robot vehicle.

It's a delay when drivers realize something went wrong, whether it's possible to be buried by a mart's dust storm earlier this year, or one of curiosity's wheels penetrates a sharp stone.

Or the distribution of curiosity of curiosity, which occurred at the beginning of the year and took a few months to resolve.

"We have not been to any of these places earlier," says Hartman. "And so, we must always be aware of the fact that we know so little about what we encounter."

When years pass, these researcher drivers are linked to their robots. When the opportunity went silent after 14 years of processing around Mars, Hartman and his colleagues felt a sense of sadness.

Opportunity "retired with honor", says Hartman.

Curiosity, which landed in 2012, has so far traveled over 12 miles (19.75 km). It has to wait a year before reaching its goal, Mount Sharp.

Then, a few months later, it will lose its marshmallow. Two robbers – one American and one European – are planning to land on the planet 2020.

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