High-res Image of the Schiaparelli Lander’s Final Hit Point
Composite of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements seen by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are seen in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
This is a sad image, but it at least tells us more about the Schiaparelli lander’s fate. It left ExoMars last month and then catastrophically fell to the ground just moments before a planned soft landing. You can clearly see pieces of the lander (the parachute and rear heatshield) not far from the blast where the lander crashed (and presumably its fuel tanks exploded on contact).
As I mentioned in a previous post, Mars is hard. And, there will be times when we prang a spacecraft. It’s like aviation: aircraft and pilots have problems. In the early days, lots of problems happened. It’s important that we get Mars landings right before we send people to the Red Planet. Even then, as Gus Grissom said about spaceflight, “We are in a risky business.”
What that means is, ESA and NASA and all the others who want to go to Mars will work to get it right, but also recognize that these things can and will happen. Also as Gus said (and learned): “the conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
I hope that the next time ESA lands one of these, all goes well and they are successful. They have a working orbiter from the ExoMars mission, and it will be gathering science for some time to come. Let’s focus on that, too, and wish them the best!
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