The Little Rovers That Could: Spirit and Discovery Traverse Mars

“Searching for Life on Mars”: Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, and Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University; hosted by Larry Smarr, Director, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), UCSD
The space program has historically been indecisive in its efforts to determine whether or not there’s life on Mars.

Most Recently

Built 2 robotic explorers, Spirit and Opportunity, w. remote sensing instruments, an arm with instruments. Went to Martian lake, but rocks were igneous. Sediment was buried in volcanic material.

Robots were initially unsuccessful in finding life, but luckily they’ve lasted longer than anticipated. “Today is day 2191 of our 90 day mission. ”

Discovered a hydrated amorphous silicate, forms in hot spring environment. Which indicates this area of Mars was once habitable.

The surface of Mars in one location is covered in little round things (suspect they were made of hemotite); it turns out they were concretions– form in precipitated water, layer upon layer, making a little hard nodule. This proves the surface of Mars was once covered in water.

Patterns in rock indicate water soaked the ground; although PH levels indicate the water was probably more like “sulfuric acid”.

Today, the robots are on their way to Endeavour Crater

Whats in the future?

Finding out if nutrients, the building blocks of life, were there.

The next rover is the size of a mini cooper with a budget to match. It will be released in space, descend via parachute, lowers rover by cable.

The guts: SAM– detects organic molecules at the PPB level to test sediment for the bulding blocks of life.

There is a concentration of methane on Mars, which is exciting because its life is short.

“Cows make methane. It’s probably not cows”

Mars is either a geologically active or volcanically active planet or both. In 2016, they will send a methane sniffing instrument to determine where it originates.

The next rover will be able to sample sediment on Mars, stuff it into a coconut sized spaceship, send it into the atmosphere, where it will be picked up by another space ship and returned to earth in a parachute.

Is there life on Mars?

Squyres: “I don’t know and I try very hard not to develop an opinion.”

How will future space exploration be divided between humans and robots?

“It’s going to be increasingly collaborative between humans and robots from here on out.”