Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Wednesday 7 August - I'm off to Mars in 2020

I launch in July 2020 on an Atlas V-541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Airforce Station and arrive at Jezero Crater, Mars, on 18 February 2021, a journey of 313,586,649 miles. I have my Boarding Pass already.

Atlas V launch (Courtesy Spacenet 101)

Jezero Crater. Courtesy NASA
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California is managed for NASA by the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is the centre for robotic exploration of the solar system. It also manages NASA's Deep Space Network.

Previous JPL missions include Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini-Huygens, Kepler, Juno and last November, InSight successfully landed on Mars. I watched on NASA TV as Mission Control monitored the "7 minutes of terror" - the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) phase - which worked perfectly. Unfortunately, I missed getting on to the InSight flight.

"What on earth is he talking about", I hear you say.

Well, I subscribe by email to a number of NASA newsletters including JPL's 'Week in Review' and the first item on the 3 August issue concerned the Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Installation 2 (MEDLI2) on the Mars 2020 Aeroshell. The Aeroshell consists of a Thermal Protection System  (heat shield) and a back shell and will protect the Mars 2020 rover as it journeys to Mars and during the entry and descent through the Mars atmosphere at about 12,500 mph, slowing to 2mph in just 6 minutes.

"Flight data will allow the uncertainties in the models [used to predict the performance of an entry vehicle] to be further reduced leading to a more accurate prediction of the loads and performance" (Henry Wright, MEDLI2 project manager).

Currently large margins (100 - 200%) need to be allowed in predictions to ensure safe entry and descent. This is of course vital for future human missions to Mars.

So what's all this about me going to Mars?

The Microdevices Laboratory at JPL will be using an electron beam to stencil submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than a human hair (75nm). My name is one of them!  The chips will be affixed to the Mars 2020 Rover.

My Boarding Pass, which includes my name of course.Courtesy NASA

JPL - Fuelling the 2020 Rover's power system (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.) Courtesy NASA JPL

 JPL - The back shell which will protect the Rover during the descent to Jezero Crater. Courtesy NASA JPL
Coutesy NASA, JPL

The Rover's robotic arm will take core samples of the surface and analyse them sending data back to Earth but there's much more to this mission than that. More later perhaps, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to following the preparations for the mission and the long voyage to the surface of Mars. Even if it's just in name.

For now I continue to build my second Saturn V model though the Airfix version is not as enjoyable to build as the Revell was.


  1. What do the base jumpers say? "Have a good one." or "See you on the other side."

  2. Alternatively, I’ll see you somewhere around 18.4°N, 77.7°E in the Nili Fossae region Conrad.

    1. I'm not very good on lat/long, don't they have an OS grid ref. system?

  3. An OS grid ref system? Maybe some day, but we won’t be around to use it. I thought being a sailor, lat/long would be right up your street Conrad.

  4. With lat/long there are too many different ways of writing it and they all involve putting in various numbers and letters, more than OS, leading to a greater propensity for error.

  5. Well done Gibson - that boarding pass may be a collectors item... ?

  6. Thanks Martin, but unfortunately I can’t claim to have been picked out specially - I should have made that clear. Last time I looked, over 8 million names had been submitted and no doubt more will be added before liftoff next summer. I assume all who apply and go through the rigorous process of submitting name and email will be accepted!