Ofcourse Curiosity is going to Mars to do research. And that research is guided by the mission science objectives. In Curiosity’s case these read as follows:
Explore and quantitatively assess a local region on Mars’ surface as a potential habitat for life, past or present.
That objective is further broken down into four requirements:
A. Assess the biological potential of at least one target environment.
i. Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds.
ii. Inventory the chemical building blocks of life (C, H, N, O, P, S).
iii. Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes.
B. Characterize the geology and geochemistry of the landing region at all appropriate spatial scales.
i. Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
ii. Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and regolith.
C. Investigate planetary processes of relevance to past habitability, including the role of water.
i. Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year = 4,000 million years) atmospheric evolution processes.
ii. Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and CO2.
D. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons.
We al hear a great deal about the building blocks of life, but what are they ?
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group, and a side-chain that is specific to each amino acid.
The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. These are critical to life and to understanding what life is.
Amino acids form the basis of proteins and enzymes, which are the building blocks of all biological life. They have been found in ancient carbon rich meteorites, which are fragments of asteroids formed shortly after the birth of the solar system.
There are 20 different standart amino acids. Each amino acid is endoded in the DNA as three letter bases called ‘codons’
Amino acids have a variety of roles in metabolism. Linear chains of amino acids make up proteins. They are also used as precurors for the biosynthesis of coenzymes or molecules.
In chemistry, an amino acid contains an amine group and a carboxyl functional group. It generally has the formula H2NCHRCOOH, where R is an organic substituent. The R group, or side chain, distinguish each amino acid.
Knowing what we are looking for with this particular Mars-mission we start building our instruments, where it is really important that these instruments are as light as is possible as we want to fit as many instruments on our robot to attain maximum profit from landing and roving Mars. Curiosity has 75 kilograms of science instruments. Not much if you consider that the total mission vehicle (including entry, descent and landing systems) weighs in at 3,300 kilograms and the actual rover at 899 kilograms.
A total of 10 instruments (guided by 130 scientists in 7 countries) were selected.
This is the list with their principal investigator.
For remote sensing:
1) MastCam imaging, atmospheric opacity (M. Malin, MSSS)
2) ChemCam chemical composition, imaging (R. Wiens, LANL/CNES)
3) APXS chemical composition (R. Gellert, Univ. Guelph, Canada)
4) MAHLI microscopic imaging (K.Edgett, MSSS)
Part of analytical laboratory:
5) SAM chemical and isotopic composition, including organic molecules (P.Mahaffy, GSFC.CNES)
6) CheMin mineralogy, chemical composition (D.Blake, ARC)
For environmental research:
7) DAN subsurface hydrogen (I.Motrofanov, IKI, Russia)
8) MARDI landing site descent imaging (M. Malin, MSSS)
9) REMS meteorology / UV radiation (L.Vázquez, CAB, Spain)
10) RAD high-energy radiation (D.Hassleer, SwRI)
In the coming days we are going to explain the workings of each individual instrument.
MSL ROVER INSTRUMENTS
APXS (Alpha-Particle-X-ray-Spectrometer) instrument will determine elemental abundances in rocks and soil. Its PI is Ralf GELLERT, University of Guelph, Canada with a cooperation of NASA
CHEMCAM (CHEMistry CAMera) instrument will analyse by spectrometry the plasma light emitted after a laser shot (from a distance of 1 to 9 m) by martian rocks. Its PI is Roger Wiens from Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is constituted of the following two units:
- - The Mast Unit (mounted on the rover mast) constituted of a laser, a telescope and a camera (RMI: Remote Micro Imager). This suite is supplied by IRAP (ex-CESR).
- The Body Unit (mounted on the rover body) constituted of 3 spectrometers, the power and on board management electronics. This suite is supplied by Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The two units are linked by electric cables and optic fibres (those are being supplied by JPL).
CHEMIN instrument will quantify minerals and mineral structure of rock samples by X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence. Its PI is David Blake, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California
DAN (Dynamic of Albedo Neutrons) instrument is a neutron detector for hydrogen measurement (including water). Its PI is Igor Mitrofanov, Russia.
MAHLI (MArs HandLens Imager) instrument is a microscope to realize images of rocks, soil, frost and ice. Its PI is Kenneth Edgett fromMalin Space Science Systems (MSSS).
MARDI (MARs Descent Imager) instrument will acquire high-resolution color images during the descent and landing on MARS to give information on the geological context of the site. Its PI is Michael Malin from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS).
MASTCAM (MAST CAMera) instrument is a set of cameras to realize multispectral and stereoscopic images at distances ranging from a few centimeters to several kilometers as well as high definition video (10 images/s). Its PI is Michael Malin from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), San Diego, California
RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) instrument should characterize a wide range of radiations for the human exploration of the planet. Its PI is Donald Hassler, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station) instrument is constituted of a meteorological package (wind, pressure, temperature measurements) and an ultraviolet sensor. Its PI is Luis Vasquez, Spain
SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument suite will perform mineralogic and atmospheric analyses, it will detect a wide range of organic compounds and will perform organic stable isotopes and noble gas analyses. Its PI is Paul Mahaffy, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). This instrument suite is composed of the following instruments and sub-systems:
- - QMS (Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer) instrument. It is supplied by GSFC/NASA.
- GC (Gas Chromatograph) instrument. It is supplied by LATMOS (ex-Service d’Aéronomie).
- TLS (Tunable Laser Spectrometer) instrument is an infrared spectrometer. It is supplied by Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
- The Sample Manipulation System (SMS)
- The Chemical Separation and Processing Laboratory (CSPL) (pyrolysis, deriving, combustion, enrichment)
- Wide Range Pumps (WRP).
the above listing is provided by CNES