in the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse you can approach the robots present on Mars

At the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse, a reconstructed outdoor Mars terrain has four robots out of the seven currently present on the red planet. Opportunity to talk about the latest scientific research entrusted to these mobile devices.

From left to right, Zhurong the Chinese rover, Ingenuity the drone, Sojourner and Perseverance
From left to right, Zhurong the Chinese rover, Ingenuity the drone, Sojourner and Perseverance © Radio France / Sophie Becherel

What are the mobile robots on Mars? Where are they ? What are they doing ? And what do they look like? In the form of a science show, the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse answers all these questions in a new outdoor event presented to the public. Unique in the world, the presentation of four of the seven rovers currently on Mars. Life-size machines are motorized and reproduced with impressive attention to detail. They develop in an environment where “the color, texture, size of the relief have been reproduced with the help of astronomers and geologists, specialists in Mars“explains Christophe Chaffardon, Director of Science, Education and Culture at the Cité de l’Espace.

Science show

To Hollywood music, in these ocher-red surroundings, at the foot of the cliff of Mont Roucou, you gradually step into Zhurong, the Chinese robot that arrived on Mars in mid-May 2021, then Perseverance, the NASA robot at work since February 2021. At the size of a car, the latter is on the hunt for traces of past life on the red planet. His replica has an articulated arm at the end of which is a tool “100% Toulouse“, Supercam designed by the engineers and scientists of IRAP, the research institute of astrophysics and planetology.”With this arm and a laser shot that it performs at a distance, Perseverance is able to analyze the nature of Mars rocks, then core them and set them aside for later recovery.“explains Christophe Chaffardon. The future trial return mission is planned within a decade.

At its size, like a car, Perseverance impresses. Especially since the city by its side presents the Sojourner, the first American mobile robot, the one from the Pathfinder mission in 1997, the size of a shoebox.

Scroll and fly on Mars

Zhurong rover
Zhurong Rover © Radio France / Sophie Becherel

A rare deviation from reality, the piloting of the machines performed by the scientific communicators takes place via a tablet. On Mars, communication with Earth takes at least eight minutes. On Zhurong’s solar panels red dust. A detail that owes nothing to coincidences: “The atmosphere on Mars, though very light, raises sand and dust, and it’s a true nightmare for scientists because the winds, seven times less powerful on Mars, do not remove the sand.“explains Simon Pujol. Invincible and passionate, the scientific mediator also tells the specifics of the Chinese rover’s movement.”The Chinese’s big innovation is to have created six steering wheels, which make crabbing possibleHe adds demonstration in support.

Among the other recent innovations from the scientific community on Mars is the flight of a small helicopter. A NASA team has really imagined flying a drone in the very thin atmosphere of Mars Ingenuity. “It was the first time a vessel had flown through the atmosphere on a planet other than Earth.“excited Christophe Chaffardon for whom”the machine foretells the future because it will be possible to explore other planets and their satellites by air“To measure the achievement of ingenuity, author of dozens of flights on the red planet, the Cité de l’Espace team shows a model helicopter toy. What to realize how the craziest projects are born, because the lift of the Martian air has of course nothing to do with the earth.

Toulouse expertise

On the right we can see the plaque's tribute to the caregivers of the pandemic
On the right we can see the plaque’s tribute to the pandemic’s caregivers © Radio France / Sophie Becherel

Thanks to the proximity of scientific laboratories in the Toulouse region, we are with this Mars terrain at the heart of current research. Because it’s a few miles away, the National Center for Space Studies knows that Perseverance is being piloted jointly and in turn with the NASA Laboratory in Los Alamos. Supercams laser has exceeded one million shots, and the traces left on the surface of the rocks are reproduced on the artifact of the reconstructed Mars terrain. An attention to detail that can be found by discovering on Perseverance’s cap a small comb that combines a caduceus and the representation of take-off from Florida. “We have reproduced this very touching gesture by NASA teams who wanted to pay tribute to healthcare professionals around the world who have been fighting the pandemic. points out Olivier Sanguy, editor-in-chief of the news site Cité de l’Espace. In addition to scientific history, “it is the human story that is told there “ he concludes, the one who keeps making people dream.

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