An analysis of 18 human-made objects destined for Mars in 14 separate missions reveals there are seven tons of human garbage on Mars.
The surface of Mars already harbors more than seven tons of garbage from half a century of robotic exploration of the red planet. This makes Mars the second body in the solar system after the Moon, where humans have “dumped” their trash on. An analysis of 18 human-made objects destined for Mars in 14 separate missions, as well as data obtained from the United Nations Outer Space Office, led Cagri Kilic, a Postdoctoral researcher in Robotics at West Virginia University, to calculate how much trash is on Mars.
All Mars spacecraft combined weigh about 9,979 kilograms. Taking into account the 2,860 kilograms of landers and rovers that are currently operating on Mars’ surface, the amount of human waste on the red planet equates to 7,119 kilograms. The researcher suggests that mars debris is mainly made up of discarded hardware, idle spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft. A module containing protection for the spacecraft is required for each mission to the Martian surface. A heat shield protects the spacecraft from the planet’s atmosphere while landing hardware includes a parachute and landing gear for a successful landing.
The ship discards parts of the module as it descends, and these can land in different locations on the planet; for example, the lower heat shield may land in one place and the parachute in another. As happened with the Perseverance rover’s landing in 2021, debris can break into smaller pieces when it falls to the ground. Martian winds can blow these small pieces away. Many small windblown debris items have been found over the years, like the recently found netting material, aka “alien spaghetti.”
Earlier this year, the Perseverance rover came across a large, bright thermal blanket observed embedded in martian rocks some two kilometers away from where the rover initially landed. Both Curiosity and Opportunity found debris when they landed in 2012 and 2005, respectively. There are nine dormant spacecraft on Mars. They include the Mars 3 lander, the Mars 6 lander, the Viking 1 lander, the Viking 2 lander, the Sojourner rover, the previously lost Beagle 2 lander, Phoenix lander, Spirit rover, and Opportunity rover, which is the latest rover to cease operation on the Martian surface.
In an article published in The Conversation, the study’s author describes them as mostly intact historical relics rather than trash. A major source of garbage is crashed spaceships and their parts. Four more spacecraft have lost contact before or shortly after landing, including two that crashed. A Mars landing mission’s hardest part is reaching the planet’s surface safely, and it doesn’t always go smoothly.
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