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NASA CONFIRMS European Mars Lander Schiaparelli’s CRASH: What Does It Mean For Europe’s Mars Mission?

First Posted: Oct 22, 2016 06:30 AM EDT
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NASA has confirmed the crash of Europe's Schiaparelli EDM lander by releasing photos taken by the American Space Agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The Schiaparelli lander, a part of the ExoMars mission by Europe and Russia, was scheduled to land on the Red Planet on October 19. However, after the lander's descent, the ground control lost contact with it.

The European Space Agency (ESA) reportedly concluded that Schiaparelli had probably crashed into Mars, after waiting for the initial critical hours after its descent. Now, the recent images by MRO confirm the crash theory. The photos show a bright spot on the Martian surface which is consistent with Schiaparelli's 12 meter wide parachute. One can also see another dark spot in the image, measuring around 50-by-130-foot, which could have been created by the lander's impact in all likelihood.

There were a lot of stakes riding on the lander's successful descent on the Martian surface. Ministers from the ESA member states are scheduled to gather for their annual meeting in December. During the event, ESA's Director General, Jan Woerner, was reportedly supposed to ask for €300 million (approx $326.58 million) to follow Schiaparelli with the ExoMars rover. Now, with lander's failure to touchdown successfully, the agency has a tougher task to convince the ministers that they can land the ExoMars rover, as per reports.

The ExoMars mission was initially supposed to be an European project, then NASA came on board and made it a joint US mission, but subsequently pulled out later. The mission then transformed into a joint collaboration with the Russian space agency. The ExoMars mission, which has been projected as the best chance to find Martian life if it exists, had also pushed its ExoMars rover launch from 2018 to 2020. The delay also accounts for a fair sum from the total money being invested into the mission, and a reported funding shortfall means that the viability of the rover's launch in 2020 is also up for discussion at the coming annual meeting. In addition, Schiaparelli was supposed to be a trial run for the technology developed by ESA for placing a rover on the Red Planet.

As per reports, it will ultimately come down to the ESA member states' ambition and appetite for space exploration. "A lot will depend on attitudes," said Jorge Vago, ExoMars project scientist. "I believe we have the information that will allow us to do this better next time. I hope the European minsiterss and taxpayers will also see it that way. It did not go the way we expected, but Europe should and can do great things on the surface of Mars. If they decide not to support ExoMars, for me that is admitting defeat."

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