The success of the initial stage of NASA’s Mars mission has hit headlines all over the world since the Curiosity rover landed on Monday August 6th in Gale Crater. Over the next two years this strange vehicle (resembling a space age beach buggy) will range 19.3 kilometres over the crater’s surface, including Mount Sharp, which is higher than Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the United States of America.
Curiosity’s landing was met with scenes of wild celebration amongst the usually impassive and serious scientists at NASA’s Pasadena Mission Control, many handing out Mars Bars to colleagues to mark the occasion, but in the midst of all this jubilation few stopped to think of Spain’s contribution.
On March 17th last year, representatives from Spain and the USA met in Madrid to sign a co-operation agreement to pool resources on this groundbreaking project. Signatories included Alan D. Solomont, American Ambassador to Spain, Arturo Azcorra, Director General of Spain’s Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology and Jaime Denis, Director General of Spain’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology. Thanks to Spanish scientific research Curiosity will be able to measure daily and seasonal weather changes; the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will use its antennae to send messages to Earth and will also be able to receive communications from Pasadena Mission Control.
When Curiosity starts its Mars mission in earnest it will send its findings back to a collection of satellite dishes in Goldstone California, Canberra Australia and Robledo de Chavela Spain, after which it will be collated and analysed by the NASA team.
Additionally, Spanish scientific know-how has been responsible for the HGAS antenna, which allows direct communication with the team in Pasadena.
As soon as it became clear that the buggy had survived the EDL (entry, descent and landing) phase of the mission, the scientists’ attention immediately turned to the matter of what might be found on the red planet, about which there has been so much fascination throughout the history of space travel and beyond.
It seems unlikely that Curiosity will encounter any of the ‘little green men’, who were popularly believed to live on Mars, but whatever it does uncover, it will be thanks in part to Spain’s scientific community.