Over the past few days, you may have come across all sorts of speculations surrounding the crash of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars lander on October 19, 2016. Earlier this week, we briefed you about one such controversial (and highly improbable) conspiracy theory suggesting that NASA intentionally shot down the lander, named “Schiaparelli”, to prevent it from establishing contact with aliens.
However, the real reason behind ESA’s failed mission could be far less sensationalizing than what crackpot conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Based on the findings of the initial investigation into the crash, it seems like the culprit was a software glitch that in Schiaparelli’s onboard computer system.
According to the scientists and engineers associated with ESA’s Mars lander program, everything was unfolding as per the original plan when Schiaparelli’s descent began into the Red Planet’s atmosphere. The deceleration happened smoothly and even the parachute was deployed on time. However, midway through the descent, the lander’s computer system decided to eject the heat shield and the parachute ahead of schedule. This led to the thrusters firing for only three seconds instead of the required 30-seconds for a safe landing.
As a result, the lander had a free fall from an altitude of 2 km above the surface and probably was destroyed in a violent explosion as soon as it hit Martian soil with a velocity of around 186 miles per hour.
If these findings are correct, then the genesis of the problem lies in a software glitch that somehow misread/misinterpreted the signals sent by different onboard sensors and concluded that the lander was too close to the ground when it was not.