Perseverance rover finds 'human trash' on Mars

The object found by NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars. / NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Science | Astronomy

The finding reopens the debate on the environmental damage that society generates in the environment and the problem of space debris

Elena Martin Lopez

Since the Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021, its primary mission has been to collect soil samples and search for signs of ancient microbial life in Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta. However, in his journey across the Martian surface he is not only finding rocks. Her latest find is something quite different: a piece of aluminum foil!

Although some have fantasized about the idea that it is the wrapper of the sandwich that some Martian ate, the NASA team has cleared us of doubts after publishing on the official Perseverance account on Twitter that the mysterious object is a piece of blanket thermal. This aluminum material is commonly used in space missions, as it helps control extreme temperatures during the entry, descent and landing process of vehicles. The one found on Mars could have come off during the descent stage of the spacecraft that allowed the rover to land on Mars.

What the NASA team wonders is how this piece appeared so far from the rover's landing site (two kilometers away). “Did this piece land here after the descent or was it blown away by the wind?” they ask in another tweet that they leave unanswered.

Nor have they shared their intention to recover it to eliminate this 'trace' of human presence on Mars, but they have taken the opportunity to present the team that is responsible for 'dressing' the spacecraft. “Think of them as spaceship dressmakers. They work with sewing machines and other tools to join these unique materials," they state in another tweet. Next to the text they add two photographs. In one there are three of these tailors; in the other, samples of the materials with which the blankets are made, one of which coincides with that found on the red planet.

The space debris problem

The finding reopens the debate on the environmental damage that humans generate in the environment and the problem of space debris. Orbital debris is any man-made object that orbits the Earth and no longer serves a useful function, such as rockets, satellites, or lost tools (screws, cables, cameras...).

According to NASA's latest estimates, there are approximately 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a baseball orbiting Earth, half a million pieces of debris the size of a marble (up to one centimeter), about 100 million pieces of debris about a millimeter and many other even smaller (less than a millimeter) but equally dangerous debris. "Both debris and spacecraft travel at very high speeds, the impact of even a small piece of orbital debris with a spacecraft could create big problems," details the US agency on its website.

Thus, the growing population of this debris increases the potential danger for all space vehicles, including the International Space Station (ISS) and other ships with humans on board. For example, since 1999, the ISS has carried out more than twenty maneuvers to avoid debris.

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