AFP / Greenbelt, USA
At 126 million kilometers from Earth, only in the red and cold unrest of Mars, soon after the dawn, a robot starts, the size of a small 4×4.
Just like every day for six years, wait for your instructions. Approximately 9:30 AM, the time of Mars, a message arriving from California comes up a quarter of an hour before: a 10-meter precession, revolves at 45 degrees, and automatically continues to this point.
Curiosity, as it is called, slowly moves between 35 and 110 meters per hour, no more. Batteries and other restrictions explain their daily journey of about 100 meters and reach a record of 220 meters.
At that time, the cameras of 17 robots photographed the surroundings. His laser laser stones. It stops with a special attractive stone to take a few grams.
About 17:00 local time, the robot waits for the passage of one of the three NASA satellites that orbit around Mars to deliver its report: a few hundred megabytes, and then it is transmitted to the main terrestrial antennas of their human bosses.
Laboratory in miniature
On the ground floor of NASA's Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt, one hour from Washington, scientists analyze this data every day. In this large room without windows, full instruments and computers, find the signs of life on Mars.
The interior of Curiosity is a miracle of miniaturization: a chemical microwave oven laboratory called SAM.
Charles Malespin, deputy head of the Curiosity Scientific Team, draws attention to tools in work plans: the robot has been reduced and compacted.
This is the most demanding instrument NASA has addressed to another planet, says Malespin, who has dedicated his career to him since 2006. SAM analyzes the samples by heating them in the oven up to 1000 ° C.
While cooking, stones and soil release gases. Then these gases are separated and sent to the instruments that are analyzed and taken away from the sample fingerprint.
At Goddard, French researcher Maeva Millan compares this chemical impression with that of experiments carried out on known molecules. When the curves are imitated, he says: This is my good molecule.
Thanks to SAM, it is known that there are complicated organic molecules on Mars and that the age of the planet's surface was determined, geologically much younger than scientists.
If we want to go to Mars, it's worthless to import existing resources, Malespin adds, for example, to water. You could dig the soil, heat it, and let go of water; By simply carrying the oven, we will have as much water as we want, says.
The same applies to various materials that could become fuel for the future rocket station.
On the other side of the United States, at the Propulsin a Chorro in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, there are about 15 men and women who command Curiosity.
My favorite moment is when I sit to see the images sent from Mars on the other side of the phone by Frank Hartman, who points to Curiosity and another Opportunity robot that broke down in June.
The work of drivers is to plan a March day – which lasts 24 hours and 40 minutes – a robot and program the commands that they must meet. If you do not have a gaming device or a real-time communication, it is unlikely that they will detect problems in advance, such as the Opportunity saturation or holes caused by the rocky ground on the Curiosity wheels.
We have to bear in mind that almost nothing is known about this place, says Hartman. Over the years, scientists and drivers have been attached to their robots. When Opportunity split, after 14 years, Hartman and his teammates felt like crying. He honored us for retired, he says.
Curiosity has reached 19.75 kilometers since 2012. In one year he is supposed to achieve his goal: Mount Sharp. A few months later, you lose your marine monopoly. Two American and European robots are expected to fly on the planet in 2020.