Last year, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, which currently spends its days flying over the surface of Mars, discovered what many described as “otherworldly wreckage.” The image is making the rounds again, but it isn’t alien in nature. Instead, the images are just a showcase of how humanity is trashing up the universe while we try to explore it.
Obviously, it is impossible to send multi-billion dollar spacecraft to another planet without there being some trash left behind. The photos currently making the rounds show a collection of wreckage on the Martian surface. And while it might be tempting to jump to alien explanations, the wreckage is, in fact, just pieces of the lander that delivered Ingenuity to the Red Planet.
While there are some good points to the image. For instance, studying the NASA Mars wreckage left behind by Ingenuity’s landing equipment can help scientists come up with better ways to land spacecraft on other planets. However, it also highlights the extreme cost of human exploration. And no matter what we do, there’s always going to be a pile of junk left in our wake whenever we go to another planet.
The cost of space travel has already been exorbitant, from the cost of the materials needed to build these spacecraft to the cost of the fuel that runs them. But, when you also consider how much debris our space missions create on these planets, it’s hard not to want to advocate for better ways of handling the trash those missions leave behind.
And we’ve already come a long way. Sure, the NASA Mars wreckage shows just how much junk we’re leaving behind on Mars, but the state of reusable rockets has helped reduce the amount of waste we’re creating with each mission exponentially. All we need to do now is figure out a way to land on Mars without leaving a ton of wreckage in our wake.
Unfortunately, that’s a lot easier said than done. Last year, Perseverance spotted more human trash on the Red Planet, which also spurred similar conversations around better handling of space exploration. For now, these images will continue to act as a reminder of the cost of human exploration, and the moments of terror that come with exploring a new planet and sending a spacecraft down to its surface.