Over five decades of space exploration on Mars have led to more than 15,000 pounds or close to 7.2 thousand kilos of waste and debris behind. In an article in The Conversation, Cagri Kilic, a postdoctoral research fellow in robotics at West Virginia University, revealed that debris on the Red Planet mainly comes from discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft and crashed spacecraft. Space missions to Mars require a module that protects the spacecraft. The module includes a heat shield for when the craft passes through the planet’s atmosphere and a parachute and landing hardware so that it can land softly.
Now, as the spacecraft descends, it discards pieces of module that end up landing at a different location on the planet.
Inactive spacecraft on the surface of Mars is another big contributor to trash or debris on the planet. Presently, there are nine such spacecraft including Mars 3 lander, Mars 6 lander, Viking 1 lander, Viking 2 lander, the Sojourner rover, the formerly lost Beagle 2 lander, the Phoenix lander, the Spirit rover and the Opportunity rover.
While most of these spacecraft are intact, some have suffered wear and tear, leaving small pieces of trash scattered on the planet. The third category of debris per cent of the planet are remains of crashed or lost spacecraft. While two spacecraft, over the years, made crash landings on Mars’ surface another four lost contact with Earth after making a safe landing.
According to Cagri Kilic, there are at least 15,000 pounds of trash on the Mars surface currently. The total mass of spacecraft that have ever been sent to Mars makes up a figure of 22,000 pounds (9979 kilograms). Of this, 6,306 pounds (2,860 kilograms) mass is of spacecrafts that are presently functional.
The presence of this large amount of waste and debris, scientists believe that could also posses threat to present and future missions to the red planet. The debris is also important for studies as they are early milestones for human planetary exploration.