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Rockhopping on Mars

Updated: May 23, 2020

The Red Planet, Mars, has been the object of fascination and dreams for us earthlings for a very long time.

Mars is close enough to feel reasonably reachable and, while not suitable for human life, hospitable enough to possibly give it a shot at some point in our future. Even Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, is convinced he can shoot one of his electric cars up there just to make a point… but then again that’s just Elon….

Because of the mentioned proximity and a manageable habitat, the Red Planet has been the subject of intense research for many years. In fact, we have been sending rovers to Mars for over 20 years. The first spacecraft we shot to Mars was the Mars Pathfinder in 1997. It consisted of a lander and a small wheeled robotic rover named Sojourner. In the last decade and half, we sent the rover Spirit, the rover Opportunity, and the rover Curiosity.

Curiosity landed on Mars at 10:32PM (PDT) on August 5ht, 2012. Its mission so far has been centered on assessing whether Mars ever had an environment which could support small life forms such as microbes. The rover carries a highly advanced set of instruments that allow it to analyze samples scooped or drilled from Mars’ surface. Curiosity can roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters high and travel up to 90 meters per hour. However, on average the rover is generally expected to drive about 30 meters per hour due to power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain and visibility (sources: NASA).

One such rover driver is Paolo Bellutta. Not many drivers or pilots can claim to hold the Guinness World Record for driving the longest distance on another planet. Paolo can claim such honor and he has had the privilege of remotely driving three rovers on Mars over the last fourteen years.

On September 13, during the MEET ITALY event dedicated to the Italian Rocket Scientists, Paolo will host one of the exhibitions that will complement the evening and the speakers panel. Our guests will be able to ask questions and share moments. Next time I will find myself stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway, I will be thinking of him and imagine I was actually driving on the Valley of the Mariners, Mars’ most famous canyon believed to be the largest in the solar system.

Our space evening will include other exhibitions such as Marzia Parisi’s research on Jupiter’s gravity and Paolo Focardi’s work on engineering instruments to understand changes in Earth soil moisture. We will also host an additional exhibition titled “Big Data Stories from Space at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” This exhibition will present work from Stefano Campagnola, Davide Farnocchia, Giangi Sacco, Giuseppe Totaro and Pietro Milillo on how to handle massive data in a number of science and engineering problems.

Davide Accomazzo, MEET ITALY Co-Founder

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