A European spacecraft’s historic first-of-its-kind livestream from the red planet was constantly interrupted by rain — from Earth.
The European Space Agency broadcast the livestream of stunning views of Earth’s next-door neighbor from the Mars Express to commemorate the spacecraft’s 20th anniversary. It was launched by a Russian rocket in Kazakhstan in 2003.
It took about 17 minutes for each image to transmit back from Mars, some 200 million miles away, and another minute to go through stations on the ground here, which had to deal with earthly elements.
Rainy weather interrupted the deep space-relay antenna in Spain throughout the broadcast, however, a number of awe-inspiring images still made it through.
Initial images sent back showed about a third of Mars, which gradually grew bigger in the frame as the spacecraft circled the planet.
In some shots, white clouds can be seen dotting the planet’s atmosphere.
“If you were currently sitting on board Mars Express … this is what you would be seeing,” said Simon Wood, the mission’s spacecraft operations engineer. “We typically don’t normally get images in this way.”
Typically, Wood said the Mars Express snaps and stores images before transmitting them back to researchers at ESA when the spacecraft’s antenna is pointed toward Earth.
Transmission of near real-time images from space is “rather rare,” according to the ESA, which noted the groundbreaking 1969 broadcast of the first moon landing and more recent events like live feeds showing spacecraft deliberately smashing into asteroids and the moon.
“These missions were all pretty close to home and others farther away sent perhaps an image or two in near real-time,” ESA said in a statement before the broadcast.
“When it comes to a lengthy livestream from deep space, this is a first,” the agency said.
The Spanish rain cut into a number of pictures shown. ESA devoted only an hour to the livestream because it did not want to overload the spacecraft’s batteries.
Mars Express had traveled to the red planet with a lander, dubbed Beagle-2, but the landing craft lost contact with Earth as it attempted to touch down on the Martian surface.
More than a decade later, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured pictures of Beagle-2. Although it made it to the surface, the lander’s solar panels didn’t fully unfurl.
NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered rippled rock textures earlier this year, giving scientists the best evidence yet to suggest lakes existed in a region of ancient Mars.
With Post wires