At 126 million kilometers from Country, just in the cold red enormity of Mars, begins soon after the dawn of a 4×4 robot. Like every day for six years, wait for your instructions.
Around 9:30, time Mars, there is a message that leaves California a quarter of an hour ago: "10 meters high, it changes to 45 degrees and continues into an independent form up to that point."
"Curiosity", as it is called, moves slowly, between 35 and 110 meters per hour, no longer. Batteries and other restrictions explain the daily journey of about one hundred meters and reach a record of 220 meters.
Once there, 17 robot cameras capture the surroundings. His laser makes fun of the rocks. In the face of a particularly attractive stone, a sample of a few grams will stop.
An hour later, the robot will wait for the passage of one of NASA's three satellites They orbit around Mars to deliver a message: several hundred megabits, then transferred to the main antenna antennas of their human bosses.
– miniature laboratory –
On the ground floor of the 34th building at Goddard's NASA Space Center in Greenbelt, about an hour from Washington, scientists are analyzing this data daily. In this great room without windows full of tools and computers, look at the signs of life on Mars.
The interior of curiosity is a "miniaturization miracle": a microwave-sized chemical laboratory called SAM.
Charles Malespin, Deputy Head of the Curiosity Science Team, points to tools in work plans: Robots have been reduced and compacted.
"This is the most complicated tool NASA has ever sent to another planet"says Malespin, who has dedicated her professional life since 2006.
SAM analyzes samples by heating in the furnace up to 1000 ° C. Gasses are released during cooking, rocks and soils. Then these gases are separated and sent to the tools that analyze them and draw the "fingerprint" of the sample.
At Goddard, the French researcher Maeva Millan compares this chemical trace with experiments on known molecules. When the curves are imitated, she says, "That's my good molecule."
Thanks to SAM, it is known that complex organic molecules are on Mars the age of the planet was determined, geologically much younger than the scientists believed.
"If we want to go to Mars, it is unnecessary to import resources that already exist," adds Malespin, for example, referring to water.
"We could dig the soil, heat it and release water, just by having an oven, we will have as much water as we want," he says. The same applies to various materials that could become fuel for a future "rocket pump".
– No joystick –
On the other side of the United States at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, There are about 15 men and women who control curiosity,
"My favorite moment is when I sit down to see pictures of Mars," says Frank Hartman, who runs the Curiosity and another robot on the other side of the phone, An opportunity that broke up in June,
The work of drivers is to plan a Martian day – which takes 24 hours and 40 minutes – the robot and program the commands to complete it.
If the joystick or real-time communication is not used, it is unlikely that they will experience problems in advance, as saturation of opportunity or hole caused by rocky soils in curiosity.
"We have to remember that we know almost nothing about this place," says Hartman.
Over the years, scientists and drivers have been connected to their robots. When the opportunity broke up, after 14 years Hartman and his teammates wanted to cry. "He left with honors," he says.
Curiosity from 2012 is 19.75 kmIn one year you should reach your goal: Mount Sharp. A few months later he loses his Martian monopoly. Two US and European robots are expected to land on the planet in 2020.