Moroccan scientist Kamal Oudrhiri has contributed to the success of the Mars 2020 exploration mission that NASA launched in July 2020.
Oudrhiri, who works as a project leader at NASA, was at the mission control center during the successful landing of the rover Perseverance on the surface of Mars.
The mission landed on Mars on Thursday, February 18, after traveling in outer space for more than six months — 204 days.
A few hours before the landing, Kamal Oudrhiri told television channel 2M about the mission’s challenges and objectives.
“Landing on Mars is a major challenge,” he said. “When it will enter the atmosphere of Mars, the spacecraft will be moving at a speed of more than 20,000 miles per hour, and it needs to be reduced to zero in less than seven minutes.”
The Moroccan scientist described the duration between the spacecraft’s entry into the atmosphere of Mars and the landing as “seven minutes of terror,” because it ultimately defines the mission’s success or failure.
Oudrhiri explained that the atmosphere on Mars is not very dense. “Its density is only 1% compared to the atmosphere on Earth, so it cannot significantly reduce the speed of the spaceship.”
The engineer added that due to the delicate nature of the landing, the speed reduction of the spacecraft goes through different stages, notably the use of a 20-meter-wide parachute four minutes after the vehicle enters the atmosphere of Mars.
“The quick speed reduction can generate excessive temperatures of more than 1,300 degrees Celsius,” Oudrhiri continued, stressing the importance of the few minutes before the landing.
The scientist’s worries, however, dissipated a few hours after the interview, when NASA celebrated the successful landing. NASA shared a photo from the surface of Mars soon after the landing.
Kamal Oudrhiri explained that the main objective of the Mars 2020 mission is to look for traces of microbial life on the planet.
“The vehicle will land on a crater called Jezero. We believe that 3.5 billion years ago, there was liquid water on Mars that transported some minerals to this crater,” the scientist said.
Perseverance, as well as a scouting helicopter called Ingenuity, is now tasked to find alien life.
The exploration mission is planned to last one Mars year, which equals 668 sols (Mars days) or 687 Earth days. After the end of the mission, Perseverance and Ingenuity will retire and spend eternity on the red planet.