First-of-its-kind live broadcast from Mars by an ESA spacecraft interrupted at times by rain on Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A European spacecraft around Mars sent its first live stream from the Red Planet to Earth on Friday to mark the 20th anniversary of its launch, but rain in Spain occasionally interfered.

The European Space Agency broadcast the live stream courtesy of its Mars Express, launched by a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan in 2003.

It took nearly 17 minutes for each image to reach Earth, nearly 200 million miles (300 million kilometers), and another minute to pass through ground stations.

Transmission was occasionally interrupted by rainy weather at the deep space relay antenna in Spain.

Still, enough footage has been released to delight the European space officials hosting the hour-long livestream. Initial views showed about a third of Mars, which gradually grew larger in frames before shrinking again as the spacecraft orbited the planet. White clouds were clearly visible in some shots.

“If you were actually sitting on Mars Express…this is what you would see,” said Simon Wood, the mission’s space operations engineer. “We don’t usually get images that way.”

Images and other data are usually stored on board the spacecraft and then transmitted to Earth, according to Wood, when the spacecraft’s antenna can be pointed that way.

According to the ESA, near real-time images from so far away are “rather rare”. The agency pointed to live broadcasts from Apollo moonwalkers more than half a century ago and, more recently, live clips of spacecraft deliberately crashing into the moon and an asteroid.

“These missions were all pretty close to home and others further out sent maybe an image or two in near real time. When it comes to a long livestream from deep space, that’s a first. said ESA in a statement ahead of the event.

Rain on the plains in Spain reduced the number of photos shown. ESA only dedicated an hour to the livestream because they didn’t want to overload the spacecraft’s batteries.

Mars Express traveled to the Red Planet with a lander, dubbed Beagle-2, which lost contact with Earth while attempting to land on the Martian surface.

More than a decade later, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of Beagle-2. Although it made it to the surface, the lander’s solar panels did not fully unfold.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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