Marco, the Italian scientist who moves his robot arms on Mars “I live as if I were up there” – time.news

by time news

“Perseverance has begun the most difficult exploration ever undertaken on Mars and we live as if we were up there, with days and hours marked by Martian sunrises and sunsets.” Marco Dolci talks about his adventure as a protagonist («I would never have imagined it») at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Jpl) of NASA, in Pasadena, California. Here the rover just landed on the Red Planet was born and from here, now, it is controlled. «It is equipped with two robotic arms – explains Dolci -. They are the ones who carry out all the operations for which it was designed. One end carries a cluster of instruments capable of analyzing and taking samples which it then transfers inside the vehicle. A second arm arranges them in capsules depositing them on the ground waiting for a new mission destined to bring them to Earth in the next few years ».

The robot-geologist who examines dust and boulders

So that everything is done in the best possible way Marco Dolci, 33, “proud of Lodi’s origins”, manages the mathematics and movements of the two joints in a hostile environment where the average temperature is 53 degrees below zero, the air is sometimes pure carbon dioxide swept by the wind, and radiation rains down from space that sterilizes the surface. Perseverance moves on the petrified bottom of an ancient delta that carried abundant water in the Jazero Crater carved by the fall of a celestial body and became a lake extended 45 kilometers: it is the best place for the first astrobiology mission dedicated to the research of biosegnature, that is, presences of a microbial life. “While the Curiosity rover has been at work since 2012 in another crater, it is a chemical-physical laboratory on wheels, Perseverance is a robot-geologist with the task of examining dust, boulders and geological layers, identifying the most interesting ones to identify traces inside them of a remote biology “.

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Space: a dream since childhood

For Marco, space was a dream since he was a child. “I wanted to become an astronaut and I started studying science, but I also wanted to master the tools to explore.” Thus, he won two degrees in physics (“I loved astrophysics”) and aerospace engineering, at the Statale and at the Politecnico di Milano (cum laude), took part in the national competition announced by ASI to spend a period in an American research center. Won the place, Dolci chose the Jpl of NASA: «The best place in the world to travel among the planets». Hired in 2017, he deals with the robotic frontier. «The motto of the Jpl – he continues – is“ dare big things ”, as it was also written on the parachute to which Perseverance was clinging, and it is the criterion with which the most complicated probes are invented to deal with unknown environments and the way to explore them. Our strength is in the group where everyone adds their own competence guided by the older master-colleagues ». In parallel, the Italian engineer is part of the team that is planning the next expedition, the Mars Sample Return, to collect the samples that he now helps to capture.

Mars with the eyes of Perseverance

Marco lives projected into the future, but anchored to the thousand concrete enigmas to be solved in the Martian advance of the rover. Science fiction has never dragged him away from real borders “which are already fantastic,” he says, stating that he has read all of Asimov with his laws of robotics. In the morning connection via Skype (in Pasadena it is night) he reveals that for him the story at the Jpl could however be just a beginning. “My childhood dream of being an astronaut is still alive and I will try to become one when the time comes. I would like to go beyond robots and be an explorer myself on the moon where we will soon return and then, who knows, maybe even on the same Mars that I now scrutinize and investigate with the eyes of Perseverance. Man with his presence will be able to extend and overcome the precious work entrusted to machines, raising the gaze of our knowledge ».

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March 16, 2021 (change March 16, 2021 | 23:28)

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