ExoMars Urey Instrument (Includes NASA Ames Partnership)
NASA-funded researchers are refining a tool that could not only check for the faintest traces of life's molecular building blocks on Mars, but could also determine whether they have been produced by anything alive.
The Urey instrument: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector, has already shown its capabilities in one of the most barren climes on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile. The European Space Agency has chosen this tool from the United States as part of the science payload for the ExoMars rover planned for launch in 2013. Last month, NASA selected Urey for an instrument-development investment of $750,000.
The European Space Agency plans for the ExoMars rover to grind samples of Martian soil to fine powder and deliver them to a suite of analytical instruments, including Urey that will search for signs of life. Each sample will be a spoonful of material dug from underground by a robotic drill.
|Key Mission People
Aaron Zent, Mars Oxidant Instrument.
The oxidant instrument has microsensors coated with various chemical films. "By measuring the reaction of the sensor films with chemicals present in the Martian soil and atmosphere, we can establish if organisms could survive and if evidence of past life would be preserved," said Dr. Richard Quinn, a co-investigator on Urey from the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif., who also works at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Richard Quinn, Mars Oxidant Instrument.
"In order to improve our chances of finding chemical evidence of life on Mars, and designing human habitats and other equipment that will function well on Mars' surface, we need to improve our understanding of oxidants in the planet's surface environment," said Dr. Aaron Zent, a Urey co-investigator at NASA Ames.
Sensor Being Developed to Check for Life on Mars
Mars Oxidant Instrument (MOI) - Image Archive