Late morning, red skies over Mars, and the first human interloper emerges from her landing craft to review the dusty expanse. As she eases carefully down the ladder towards the alien earth, her mind spins with the words that, like Armstrong’s, will echo forever in the human conscious. She speaks and, when her signal reaches home just over three minutes later, 11 billion hearts skip a beat. It’s a powerful image, oft perpetuated in such media as the upcoming National Geographic “global event series” MARS. But below is another, far realer image: the crater left by Schiaparelli after its parachute jettisoned too early and it ploughed into the Martian surface, fatally. Images like this illustrate the truly difficult, dangerous and costly business of spaceflight.
In Darmstadt, Germany, European Space Agency (ESA) teams are scrambling to confirm contact with the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli—the spectre of Philae still haunting the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC). Whether or not ESA ever speak to Schiaparelli again, the risky business of space robotics is once more laid bare.