Giovanni Schiaparelli, one of the most famous observers of Mars prior to the space age, would have celebrated his 181st birthday today, were it not for, you know, aging. Though he wasn’t around to celebrate, he nonetheless received a pretty amazing gift.
At 09:31 GMT, a Russian Proton-M rocket lifted off from the historic launch facility at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Where once top secret Soviet satellites and crewed spacecraft launched to space in a heated space race with the United States, today an international mission of science and discovery called ExoMars began its 496 km journey to Mars.
The main spacecraft, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), will search for methane sources on the Red Planet and map hydrogen content below the surface, continuing Schiaparelli’s search for life in the solar system. While the Italian astronomer used a big telescope and a keen eye to chart what he referred to as canali on the surface, TGO will use advanced neutron detectors and stereo photography.
It’s an ambitious mission which has only just begun; course corrections are planned throughout it’s 7-month journey, and TGO will need to operate for many years after insertion, conducting science and also acting as relays for surface operating spacecraft, including the upcoming follow up from ESA – the ExoMars 2018 rover.Here at WeMartians, the event began early in the morning. Very early.
Happy Birthday, Giovanni!