New Mexico's role in the next mission to Mars will also be part of a tri-national Earthly collaboration, officials say.
The new generation of the Red Planet rover touches down in 2020 and is set to again feature a partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory, the French space agency and scientists in Spain. Researchers and managers from LANL traveled along with NASA Mars project officials to a Paris space conference this month where they signed an agreement with the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales. The partners are already long entrenched in manufacturing a delicate, powerful instrument that analyzes the composition of rocks as part of a suite of gadgets aboard the Curiosity Rover—roaming our neighboring planet right now.The team’s ChemCam was selected last year to join the next rover project. The current instrument uses a laser to pulverize small bits of rock on Mars and measures the light produced in the blast in a process called infrared spectroscopy that allows scientists to determine a material’s composition. The new instrument, SuperCam, adds another kind of spectroscopy called Raman, and other features.Lab director Charles Bolden also signed an agreement at the conference to work with Spain on a mission to study the core of Mars and to plan calibration targets for SuperCam. The Spanish government plans to continue its work on weather monitoring systems and antenna on the rover that are essential to transmitting data from the mission, according to a press release from the lab. Bolden says in the statement that he's delighted to retain the lab's long-time partners, adding “We’re paving the way for humans to visit the Red Planet and working to answer one of the key questions for all humanity: has there ever been life elsewhere?”Want to know more? Project geochemist Nina Lanza appears at 5:30 tonight at an event called “Red Wine & Mars,” as part of the Bradbury Science Museum’s Science on Tap series at the UnQuarked Wine Room, 145 Central Square in Los Alamos. Read our cover story from February about Lanza and the Mars rover here.