Diana Trujillo, flight director of the ‘Perseverance’ mission: “There must be some life on Mars”

The Colombian aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo yesterday narrated, for the first time in Spanish, the landing of a NASA spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Trujillo (Cali, 1981) was the leader of the mission Curiosity, was in charge of the engineering team that developed the robotic arm of the Perseverance and was recently named the director of flight for the Mars 2020 mission.

The scientist, who came to the United States two decades ago without knowing English and with $ 300 in her pocket, today has become an example and inspiration for thousands of Latina women who dream of one day working at NASA. Trujillo insists that tell in Spanish the arrival of the Perseverance a Mars can help many girls and boys in Latin America and Spain fall in love with science and space.

A few hours after finishing the live broadcast of the show Together we persevere, which has had more than a million and a half views, Trujillo told EL PAÍS the details of the successful landing of the ship and the objectives of the mission. According to the researcher, Perseverance It has all the technology needed to find traces of microbial life from billions of years ago in the Jezero crater on the red planet.

Ask. Yesterday was the first time that NASA broadcast the arrival of a ship to another planet in Spanish and you were in charge of narrating the process. How did you live that experience?

Answer. It was spectacular. For a long time I wanted NASA to broadcast a planetary landing in Spanish. He had been insisting for months. Everything went well. The aim was for this historic moment to reach not only scientists and engineers who speak English, but also grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, and above all the children of Latin America and Spain.

P. In addition to telling the Hispanic world the details of the landing, you played a very important role in the development of the PerseveranceWhat was your specific role?

R. I was recently appointed one of the flight directors of Perseverance. Before that, I was in charge of leading the team that designed the robotic arm of the spacecraft and of building the two instruments that will help us show whether there was life on Mars in the past.

P. How was the process?

R. We work a lot, 24 hours a day for many months to finish assembling the robot Persy [en femenino]. We never stop, neither weekends, nor December, nor parties. We rotated among the team members so as not to waste a minute. When the ship was ready we took it to Cape Canaveral in Florida. It took off on July 30 of last year, almost six months ago. Perseverance vIt traveled 480 million kilometers at 20,000 kilometers per hour. The challenge was to be able to lower that speed to zero to land without problems. We did it. It was very exciting.

P. What is your landing balance? How were the details of the last minutes before the Perseverance touch Martian surface?

R. We survived the seven minutes of terror. This is what we say to the time that passes from the moment the spacecraft touches the atmosphere on Mars until it reaches the surface. In that interval, the robot had to change the angle of rotation to face the ground, decelerate through the activation of a supersonic parachute, brake with a heat shield, take photos to compare what it was seeing with the information it had saved. in your brain. When it was very close to the surface, it lit the rockets to avoid hitting the ground and began to descend very slowly with the help of a kind of aerial crane.

P. The Perseverance successfully landed in a crater called Jezero. What characteristics does this place have?

R. It is a special place because everything indicates that a river flowed there. It is a crater of approximately 45 kilometers in diameter. If you look at the photos it looks like a fan, like a place where water and sediment have spread.

P. Is it confirmed that there was water there?

R. It is confirmed that there was something that changed the composition of the material that is around. That is why all scientists agree that this is the place where we can probably find traces of microbial life. If it was the mouth of a river, there must be some life there. If we find that, we will also do the research to find out if life probably started on Mars and on Earth at the same time.

P. What difference does Perseverance of Curiosity?

R. Perseverance It is the most advanced robot in NASA. It has 23 cameras, two microphones, a helicopter called Ingenuity, a highly specialized sample collection system and the first instrument to make oxygen on the surface of Mars. Curiosity I had to answer if there was the possibility of finding life, Perseverance he is trying to answer whether there was indeed life in the past. We already know that there was the possibility, now we are looking for that proof to confirm it.

“’Perseverance’ is NASA’s most advanced robot. It has 23 cameras, two microphones, a helicopter called Naivety, a highly specialized sample collection system and the first instrument to make oxygen on the surface of Mars “

P. What is he going to do Perseverance in the coming days?

R. The mission will last one Mars year, which is two Earth years. What we are going to do the first two weeks are checks to see that none of the robot has been damaged. I still don’t believe it; is that entering Mars at 20,000 kilometers per hour and that nothing has been damaged is surprising. Once we verify that all the systems are working perfectly, we are going to start touring the crater and collecting samples to bring them to Earth, study them and define once and for all if there was life on Mars.

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