The Argentine engineer who designed Ingenuity recounts how she lived NASA’s first flight on Mars

With some panic and heart in the mouth. This is how Argentine engineer Clara O’Farrell suffered the downturn Mars Of the mission Determination. The expert works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and worked on designing parachutes that were essential to the maneuver.

O’Farrell spoke with Télam and speculated that this manibroa “opens the doors to a design.” New helicopters To explore the “Red Planet.”

Ingenuity, a helicopter weighing less than two kilograms to Mars tied to the Perseverance craft, landed on the planet in February 2020 and became the last Monday The first powered aircraft to fly on another planet, An achievement compared to those of the Wright brothers in 1903 in North Carolina, in the United States.

Creativity shadow image on Mars during its second flight. Photo: DPA

Powered by solar energy, it is equipped with a camera that aims to make a series of short trips to Check out the Martian atmosphere conditions For the trip.

O’Farrell was born in the province of Buenos Aires 35 years ago. At the age of nineteen, he traveled to the United States to study engineering.

The expert confirms that “when NASA sent the Pathfinder to Mars in 1997, people also wondered why something like a remote control car was sent there, but that gave us Experience and knowledge To develop all the mobile vehicles that came after that that allowed us to explore beyond the landing point, and to open up new opportunities. “

“Creativity allows us to show that,” he explained It could fly on Mars And that in the future, we can send a mission that includes a small helicopter that will allow us to explore the surface from the air to determine where we want to continue exploring. “

The engineer emphasized that “Mars is a very complex place to fly because its atmosphere is much thinner than the Earth’s, and this makes it difficult for a helicopter to generate lift to fly. That is why creativity had to They are very light and their blades can spin faster Than they need here on earth. “

But this is not the only challenge the small plane has had to overcome: it must also be able to charge with solar energy and “withstand the cold climate of Mars, especially on the most hostile nights; in the face of all these challenges, the final configuration has been reached, which is the best.” What suits the Martian environment. “

He added that in addition to sending images of its shadow on the surface of Mars captured by its camera, the device “sends a lot of engineering data that allows us to improve our models and design the next generation of this type of device.” .

This is how he lived it

O’Farrell, one of the team members responsible for landing “Perseverance” on Mars, said, “We had to be careful because creativity was so addicted to perseverance and even though we had pictures of the site we were going to land on and we tried to avoid the big rocks and there was always a risk.” The helicopter collided with some small rocks. “

Clara O'Farrell relates her feelings after the historic first flight of a robotic helicopter to the surface of Mars.

Clara O’Farrell relates her feelings after the historic first flight of a robotic helicopter to the surface of Mars.

Argentina witnessed the historic moment at NASA, when, on Monday, April 19, Ingenuity made its first flight from 39.1 seconds, It rises three meters from the surface.

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The engineer said: I lived the moment of landing.I am in a panic Because the work of many years of people depended on us doing our job well, this is how we were And my heart is in my mouth Until the confirmation came that the parachute had opened correctly; It was a moment of incredible happiness and joy. “

Chosen place

The engineer said that what allowed them to choose the best place to land was the artificial intelligence applied in real time.

“A new technology – he explained – we used it for the first time in this mission, where perseverance through artificial intelligence was to take pictures while descending into the parachute, and compare it with a map of satellite images of Mars to locate and accordingly correct its fall to head towards the area in which it had to land.” .


Regarding his work on parachute development, he noted that “conditions in the Martian atmosphere force us to develop parachutes that open when we are moving at speeds close to twice the speed of sound, and a 21-meter-diameter parachute must be packed onto a 70 cm-diameter cylinder that should open in half a second completely, which is a very dynamic event.” Almost violent. “

And so the operation of the first flight on Mars was followed up from the NASA Operations Center.  Photo: Reuters

And so the operation of the first flight on Mars was followed up from the NASA Operations Center. Photo: Reuters

Regarding the properties of parachutes, he said, “They should be as light as possible because every kilogram carried into space costs a lot, but they must also be strong enough to resist when they have to stop the rover from falling down and resistance so that seven months of “Space travel to Mars, it is made of nylon but we have reinforced it with a lot of Kevlar; it is more a matter of careful design than a matter of materials that can add weight to the mission.”

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O’Farrell commented, “In two weeks, the test and perseverance phase was over It will begin to take samples of Martian soil And packaging them in containers, and we are already working on the next task that will have to collect these samples and bring them to the ground so that we can analyze them. “

“The next series of missions will have different steps, one stage will require bringing a small rocket to the surface of Mars where the rover will load the samples taken by perseverance to place them in the orbit of Mars, and then a satellite is going. To find those samples in orbit to send them to Earth where they are.” We can analyze it, and although all of this will take several years, we are already working on the things that will be necessary to implement them, ”O’Farrell is accomplished.

Source: Telam


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