The Perseverance rover’s “backshell” lies where it fell in early 2021 on the surface of Mars’s Jezero Crater.
NASA / JPL-Caltech
60 years of missions have caused the Red Planet to be littered with human-created space junk.
Human beings have been launching missions into space for about 60 years. During that time, elements sent beyond the Earth, such as stages, rockets or satellites, have been lost or abandoned, without collecting the remains they have left behind. This space debris can wander through space for decades or, alternatively, it can stay in the same place where it was deposited.
This is what happens on Mars, where it has recently been estimated that there are more than 7,000 kilograms of space debris created by humans. This would be the result of the exploration of the red planet, which would last more than 50 years, and its probes and robots that could not be returned to Earth.
Since the missions to Mars began, a total of 14 with 18 human-made objects have been sent, and these have been disposed of on the same planet.
One of the current missions that is active there is the Perseverance rover. In August of this year, the robot had detected a piece of garbage during its landing, as well as a kind of “hair” when collecting rocks for later sampling on Earth.
Why is there human garbage on Mars?
Because all this space junk on the red planet’s surface comes from three main sources: “discarded hardware, idle spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.” As for the discarded hardware, this could be made up of parts that protect spacecraft when they pass through the Martian atmosphere or the parachutes they use, for example.
On the other hand, inactive spacecraft can respond to those that have carried tools that are being used to explore Mars, such as the Perseverance rover or the Ingenuity helicopter. Regarding the crashed spacecraft, they are those that have not reached Mars in the expected way and have impacted the planet’s surface, rendering them useless.
In total, between all the spacecraft that have ever been sent to Mars, there is a total of 9,979 kilograms of garbage on the planet. However, this amount should be subtracted from the weight of the tools that still work, such as Perseverance, which is a total of 2,860 kilograms. There would then be 7,119 kilograms of debris on Mars.
But what does it matter that there is garbage on the red planet? For scientists, that the surface of Mars has so much debris is a concern, since it represents a risk “for current and future missions.” In fact, this problem is already being experienced with the Perseverance rover, which has encountered various human debris and is at risk, albeit low, of becoming entangled in it.