Mars Is Littered With Over 7 Tons of Trash From Robotic Space Exploration

The nine inactive spacecraft on the surface of Mars make up the next type of debris. These craft are the Mars 3 lander, Mars 6 lander, Viking 1 lander, Viking 2 lander, the Sojourner rover, the formerly lost Beagle 2 lander, the Phoenix lander, the Spirit rover and the most recently deceased spacecraft, the Opportunity rover. Mostly intact, these might be better considered historical relics than trash.

Wear and tear take their toll on everything on the Martian surface. Some parts of Curiosity’s aluminum wheels have broken off and are presumably scattered along the rover’s track. Some of the litter is purposeful, with Perseverance having dropped a drill bit onto the surface in July 2021, allowing it to swap in a new, pristine bit so that it could keep collecting samples.

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Crashed spacecraft and their pieces are another significant source of trash. At least two spacecraft have crashed, and an additional four have lost contact before or just after landing. Safely descending to the planet’s surface is the hardest part of any Mars landing mission — and it doesn’t always end well.

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When you add up the mass of all spacecraft that have ever been sent to Mars, you get about 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms). Subtract the weight of the currently operational craft on the surface — 6,306 pounds (2,860 kilograms) — and you are left with 15,694 pounds (7,119 kilograms) of human debris on Mars.

Mars trash

The wheels of the Curiosity rover have taken damage over the years, leaving behind small bits of aluminum.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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