Episode Summary

Written and Directed by Laura Turek

The most perilous part of the journey to the Red Planet is the six minutes it will take to travel from the top of the Mars atmosphere to its surface – the six minutes of terror.

Landing on Mars is a complex three-step process: entry, descent and landing. Entry into Mars’ atmosphere begins 125 kms above the surface and lasts about two minutes, with the spacecraft hurtling towards Mars at about 16,000 kms an hour. Only a specially designed inflatable aeroshell outside the Mars Lander will protect the capsule and its occupants from a friction created temperature of 4,000 Celsius. The heat shield must also act as a brake.

NASA Chief Engineer Rob Manning explains the particular problem of Mars – it does not have enough atmosphere for a spaceship to emulate a landing on Earth – and yet it has too much atmosphere to simulate a moon landing.

Within the first two minutes of descent, the heat shield will reduce the craft’s kinetic energy by 90 per cent, and, typically, a parachute system is deployed to further decrease speed. But recent test results have not been good and designer Leonid Gorshkov at Russia’s Energia Space Corporation has decided parachutes are too risky. The Russians are experimenting with descent engines.

At the final stage, the astronauts have about 90 seconds to find a landing site that is not only safe but has, or has had, water. Only on such a site can past or present life forms be discovered. In 2005, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took high-resolution images of the planet to help locate future landing sites. Bob Richards of Optech Industries in Toronto is testing a new generation guidance system, Lidar, which will help the Mars Lander spot obstacles within seconds with a colour-coding radar-like system.

Most space agencies plan to send a 40-ton Habitat to Mars ahead of the crew. The astronauts must land close to that advance module, their supply base for 18 months. If they fail to do so, they will die. Filmmaker James Cameron offers an interesting solution.

Every time an astronaut steps out of the Habitat, only their spacesuits will protect them from Mars’ hostile environment. A current prototype flexible suit has 20,000 parts, costs $10- million dollars and weighs 95 kilos – too heavy a load. It must protect the astronauts from organ-damaging radiation, penetrating fine dust, dangerous electrical storms and the carbon dioxide of the Mars atmosphere.

It is only after the crew are safely on the planet’s surface that the real purpose of the mission can begin – the search for life on Mars


Links and References

James Cameron
James Cameron is a three-time Academy Award winning-movie director, screenwriter, art director and producer and also the winner of two Golden Globes. Born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, he is one of Hollywood’s most prolific film-makers. Thematically, Cameron’s films often explore the relationship between man and technology. Among his iconic films are ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Aliens,’ ‘The Abyss,’ ‘True Lies,’ ‘Dark Angel’ and ‘Titanic.’ Cameron, who studied physics, has a keen interest in space exploration and is a non-scientific adviser to NASA. He is on the science team for the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory and plans to create a 3-D project about the first trip to Mars. Cameron received the Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1991 and an honorary degree from the University of Southampton for his contributions to underwater filming and remote vehicle technology in 2004. He is a member of the Mars Society.

Bob Richards
Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards studied aerospace and industrial engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto and space science at Cornell University, where he was special assistant to Carl Sagan. Richards is the Director of the Space Division at Optech Incorporated (in Vaughan, Ontario), a world leading developer of advanced laser radar (Lidar) systems for space exploration. Lidar sends out laser beams to count and process millions of data points in seconds. Lidar systems allow robots and humans to sense and visualize the world around them at the speed of light, aiding in spaceship docking, landing and hazard avoidance. In 1987 Richards, along with Peter Diamandis and Todd Hawley, founded the International Space University based in Strasbourg. He is a contributing author of Blueprint for Space, published by the Smithsonian Institute and Return to the Moon (2005, Apogee Books).

“Mars Rising” Episode 5 Six Minutes of Terror
Scientists and experts
in order of appearance
Nationality Company or Institution
Rob Manning American NASA, Chief Engineer, Mars Exploration Program
Neil Cheatwood American NASA Langley, Research Engineer
Mathew Golombek American NASA, JPL, Pathfinder, Geology
Adam Steltzner American NASA Landing Systems, Mars Science Lab
Valery Finchenko American Centre of Aerodynamic & Thermal Design of Spacecraft
James Cameron Canadian NASA Adviser. Science team 2009 Mars Science Lab. Member Mars Society. Three time Academy Award-winner (‘Titanic’)
Glen Brown American NASA, Jet Propulsion Lab.
James Garvin American NASA’s Chief Scientist Mars Exploration Program and Lunar Exploration
Leonid Gorshkov Russian RSC Energia, Exploration Strategist, Spacecraft Designer
Paul Delaney Canadian York University, Professor of Physics and Astronomy. Director, York University’s Observatory
Ruslan Kuzmin Russian Vernadsky Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences. Geology of Mars
Neil Armstrong, American NASA Astronaut retired. Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon. First man to walk on the moon.
Bob Richards Canadian Optech Inc., Mississauga, Director of Space Atmospherics & Lidar. Co-founder of International Space University
Jean de la Fontaine Canadian NGC Aerospace CANADA. Projects with Canadian and European Space Agencies
Joe Kosmo American NASA, Senior Project Engineer, Spacesuits
Amy Ross American NASA, JSC. Spacesuits
Dave Graziosi American NASA, ILC Dover´s lead design engineer for the projected Mars ‘softer’ space I-suit
Bill Avery American NASA, Quality Test Laboratory, Spacesuit tester
Keith W. Splawn American NASA, ILC Dover, Spacesuit Design Engineer
Dean Eppler American Science Applications International Corporation
Brent Bos American NASA, Research Physicist
Steve Metzger American Tuscon, Planetary Science Institute. Nevada Test Site, dust devil velocity
Daniel Baker American University of Colorado-Boulder, Director Atmospheric and Space Physics, Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences