Why Is It So Difficult To Land On Mars?

Mars missions have been attempted by so many countries, and there have been some major breakthroughs when it comes to the red planet. In reality, Mars is actually the toughest planet to land on. When you look at it, Mars seems pretty harmless. It doesn’t have toxic clouds like Venus, and it has flat places to land on.

The Problem

The atmosphere of Mars is a hundred times thinner that Earth’s. This makes parachutes ten times less effective which means that if you were to skydive on Mars, you would be falling at 200MPH. To lessen this speed, NASA increases the size of the parachute. The Curiosity rover used the largest supersonic parachute in 2012 but even that didn’t slow it down enough.

What Went Wrong?

If you were to land on Mars at the same speed as that on Earth, you would need a parachute that ten times bigger than the one you would use on Earth. To be more specific, it will have to be 110 feet in diameter. Now, NASA’s rover was thirteen times the size of an average human, so to slow down the speed to stop it from crashing and falling apart, they would need a parachute that’s 400 times bigger than a parachute that would be used on Earth. In reality, Curiosity’s diameter was only 70 feet. This is because it is physically impossible to make such a huge parachute and expect it to not shred while landing.

So How Do We Do It?

The alternative to this is a carefully crafted process. First, the spacecraft deploys a huge parachute to lessen the speed. Next, it fires retro rockets to take it the rest of the way. Timing is very crucial here. If the parachute or the rockets don’t keep time as planned, the end result is disastrous.

So far, only three space agencies have tried to land on Mars. NASA, The European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union. None of them have the perfect record. So why do we keep trying to land on Mars? Maybe because it’s close to Earth and we can discover alien species or other forms of life, or it’s because of the fact that we might just be the first species to inhabit another planet other than our own.


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