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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Can an Off-Nominal Landing by an MMRTG-Powered Spacecraft Induce a Special Region on Mars When No Ice Is Present?

  • Author(s): Shotwell, Robert F
  • Hays, Lindsay E
  • Beaty, David W
  • Goreva, Yulia
  • Kieft, Thomas L
  • Mellon, Michael T
  • Moridis, George
  • Peterson, Lee D
  • Spycher, Nicolas
  • et al.
Abstract

This work aims at addressing whether a catastrophic failure of an entry, descent, and landing event of a Multimission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator-based lander could embed the heat sources into the martian subsurface and create a local environment that (1) would temporarily satisfy the conditions for a martian Special Region and (2) could establish a transport mechanism through which introduced terrestrial organisms could be mobilized to naturally occurring Special Regions elsewhere on Mars. Two models were run, a primary model by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a secondary model by researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both of which were based on selected starting conditions for various surface composition cases that establish the worst-case scenario, including geological data collected by the Mars Science Laboratory at Gale Crater. The summary outputs of both modeling efforts showed similar results: that the introduction of the modeled heat source could temporarily create the conditions established for a Special Region, but that there would be no transport mechanism by which an introduced terrestrial microbe, even if it was active during the temporarily induced Special Region conditions, could be transported to a naturally occurring Special Region of Mars.

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