Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Empathy for the Spirit Rover, NASA moving on with new partner

Rumors of Spirit's demise have been greatly exaggerated for years, it seems every six months or so we see one of these stories. Unfortunately, this time it looks like NASA is for real. In the continuing saga of the little rover that could, NASA announced Saturday (to much press) that Spirit may never call home from the surface of Mars. This pretty much blanketed the news this weekend, but I think we're all a little tone deaf after seeing the same story for so many years. I also think NASA was a little insensitive to poor spirit yesterday by announcing its plans for the new and improved rovers. So to remind us all of the scope of the tragedy, I thought I'd dig out my favorite xkcd.

Click for the rest of the comic...

Pour out a little Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster for the homies...

NASA and ESA announce future Mars plan

Moving on to bigger and better rover plans, NASA announced in a press release yesterday that it had selected the new instruments for its upcoming joint Mars mission with ESA. The cooperative is a three mission series that will play out over the coming decade, as the pair hunt for traces of life on the surface of the Red Planet.

Included in the plans is the 2016 ExoMars orbiter and lander mission specifically designed to map the planets methane sources and help pick a landing site for the following 2018 ExoMars rover. The rover would have a drilling capability so it could scour its immediate area and try to determine if the planet's methane is a result of life. The ExoMars rover would then store select (potentially life-containing) samples which would be retrieved by the final mission in the series and return them to earth sometime in "the 2020s." This would represent the first time humans have returned a sample from another planet.

Of course the U.S. selectee institutions are no surprise, but details on the instruments are still very lacking. If anyone has seen the proposals for these please do share, while I can guess at most of these from existing technologies, I failed to find any good links or in-depth descriptions for most of the instruments.

From the release:

Mars Atmosphere Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer
-- A spectrometer designed to detect very low concentrations of the molecular components of the Martian atmosphere: Paul Wennberg, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena Calif.

High Resolution Solar Occultation and Nadir Spectrometer

-- A spectrometer designed to detect traces of the components of the Martian atmosphere and to map where they are on the surface: Ann C. Vandaele, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Brussels, Belgium.

ExoMars Climate Sounder (Link is for current MRO instrument)
-- An infrared radiometer that provides daily global data on dust, water vapor and other materials to provide the context for data analysis from the spectrometers: John Schofield, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

High Resolution Stereo Color Imager
-- A camera that provides four-color stereo imaging at a resolution of two million pixels over an 8.5 km swath: Alfred McEwen, University of Arizona.

Mars Atmospheric Global Imaging Experiment
-- A wide-angle, multi-spectral camera to provide global images of Mars in support of the other instruments: Bruce Cantor, Malin Space Science Systems, San
Diego, Calif.

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