“Curiosity” is the name of NASA’s new robot. The size of a car, the successor of the mighty Spirit and Opportunity will be launched toward Mars in 2011.
There is, or was there life on Mars?
Besides a better understanding of Mars in general, the new space robot embark taking a very direct question: Mars once had, or still have, capable of supporting life similar to organic life existing on Earth?
To try to answer it, the robot will look for Curiosity organic molecules, the chemical blocks that form the basis of life. Or at least life as we know, as scientists have begun to wonder whether there is alien life in space, beyond the life we know .
“To answer the question ‘Is there life on Mars,’ the most sensible and productive approach is to look for organic compounds, which can be life-past or present, or meteorites,” said Michael Meyer, a senior mission.
In addition to more advanced equipment, the curiosity will feature a collection of tools that allow the removal of surface dirt from the rocks to examine them in greater depth. A laser beam will be able to melt the rocks, capturing samples of the inside to make more accurate analysis.
The rocks are of particular interest because they keep records of billions of years into it and can provide an accurate picture of the planet’s past.
Although it is hard to beat the resistance of durable Spirit and Opportunity, the Curiosity has a great advantage: it does not depend on solar energy to operate.
Instead of solar panels, a small nuclear reactor will allow the robot to operate at full load full time without the problems caused by dust deposited on the solar panels.
How much bigger and heavier, the new robot will not use airbags that allowed the robot twins leave jumping like balls on the Martian surface. A landing stage, called Sky Crane (Crane sky) will allow Curiosity down gently on the ground, ready to begin work.
In addition to a robotic arm much stronger, a real laser cannon allow rocks to be rendered without the robot needs to move too – the laser will be able to vaporize rocks at a distance of up to 9 meters, producing a plasma that will be analyzed by various spectrographs, obtaining a detailed record of the chemistry of the rocks. This will allow the identification of minerals and organic molecules without the robot has to walk too.
Another instrument will literally “sniff” the atmosphere of Mars. The apparatus SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) is being considered even more promising after the identification of methane on Mars .
The instrument will analyze the planet’s atmosphere and winds, helping to identify chemical compounds and, based on the concentration of these compounds in the air, which may be methane or not, determine locations for more detailed studies. This is crucial, since the methane can be released by microbes or by the reaction of liquid water with rocks under the surface.