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Ongoing Science Missions
Diagram of MSL payloads.

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Ames' contributions page Ames MSL press kit


Chris McKay, senior scientist at Ames, is a co-investigator on the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Click for full bio. ChemCam is a rock-zapping laser instrument on the rover's mast that can hit rocks with a laser powerful enough to transform a pinhead-sized area into a glowing, ionized gas. ChemCam then observes the flash through a telescope and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify the chemical elements in the target. That information about rocks or patches of soil located a maximum of 23 feet away will help the rover team survey the rover's surroundings and choose which targets to drill into, or scoop up, for additional analysis by other instruments on Curiosity. McKay will be involved in using ChemCam to select the samples for SAM analysis. Jen Blank, an astrobiologist at Ames and the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, will support the ChemCam Instrument on Curiosity. During the first 90 sols of the mission – sol refers to the length of a Mars solar day, or about 24 hours and 37 minutes on Earth - Blank will split her time between Ames and Mission Control at JPL, participating in the science theme group activities, which include creating daily and longer-term recommendations for the rover science operations. For ChemCam operations, she will serve as a Science Payload Downlink Lead. Blank will shepherd the ChemCam data transmitted to Earth from Mars through several software processing programs, post the first quick look at these data in a summary form, and make fast, preliminary interpretations of the findings to help the MSL science team plan the rover’s next activities. Blank has a PhD in Geochemistry and is interested in finding chemical evidence of water preserved in the rocks on Mars. On Earth, she studies chemical signatures of organic compounds in rocks and minerals that form in response to biological activity. For more about ChemCam, the first interplanetary laser, visit: and
The two main parts of the ChemCam laser instrument Body and Mast Units of ChemCam Instrument Depiction of Curiosity using its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires invisible laser pulses at a target. It then views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. Image: NASA/JPL

ChemCam Video

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Ames senior scientist Chris McKay is also a co-investigator on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on Curiosity which has three laboratory tools for analyzing chemistry. The tools will examine gases from the Martian atmosphere, as well as gases that ovens and solvents pull from powdered rock and soil samples. McKay's particular interest in SAM focuses on the detection of organics and the characterization of compounds in the Martian soil that could be used as nutrients for life, in particular nitrates and perchlorates. Rosalba Bonaccorsi is an environmental scientist and SETI Institute principal investigator working at Ames. Bonaccorsi will support McKay as Co-I of the SAM Instrument Team. Her work on SAM and the analysis of organics is connected to her field activities in partnership with Death Valley National Park Management studying clay-rich soil samples from the Ubehebe Volcanic Field in the northern half of Death Valley, Calif. The Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley has several features seen at the Gale Crater on Mars, where Curiosity will roam, including a dozen craters formed during a series of hydro-magmatic explosions that occurred sometime between two to six thousand years ago, and a layered wall with possible clay-rich lake sediments and river deposits. Scientists believe understanding the source and sink of clays in cratered terrains is important for characterizing sedimentary processes, as well as meteorological and micro-environmental features conducive to the formation of clay-rich deposits and the preservation of detectable organics on Mars. Monitoring moisture variations in fine-grained clay-rich deposits in craters in dry climates can help scientists better understand the timescale required for the soils to weather, as well as water’s role on microbial life and the production of organics in relation to this life. For more information about SAM, visit:
Engineers lift the SAM instrument for installation into the Curiosity rover. Engineers at JPL prepare to install the SAM instrument on Curiosity. The SAM instrument suite, without side panels, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The SAM instrument suite, without side panels, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
SAM laboratory prior to installation of side panels. SAM prior to installation of side panels. SAM laboratory after installation of the side panels SAM after the installation of side panels.


Bob Haberle, senior scientist at Ames, is co-investigator on the Rover Environmental MonitoringStation (REMS) instrument on Curiosity, which will provide daily weather reports from the Red Planet. The REMS consists of a suite of meteorological instruments that will record hourly measurements of wind, pressure, temperature, humidity, and ultra violet (UV) radiation. These data will provide current environmental conditions within Gale Crater and extend the surface meteorological record on Mars initiated by NASA's Vikingmission in the 1970s, NASA's Pathfinder mission in 1997, and NASA's Phoenixmission in 2008. The REMS will be the first experiment to make meteorological measurements in the Southern Hemisphere of Mars. It also will be the first to measure surface humidity there and the UV-A, -B, -C, and total dosages of radiation, to provide valuable data for future human missions to Mars. Haberle will analyze these data and will use the NASA/Ames Mars General CirculationModel – led by Jeff Hollingsworth, chief of the Planetary Systems Branch at Ames – to help interpret them. "Mars provides a natural laboratory for us to test our theories of the processes that affect weather and climate on Earth and other planetary bodies with atmospheres," said Haberle. Melinda Kahre, a space scientist at Ames, will support Haberle on the REMS science team. During the first 90 sols of the mission – sol refers to the length of a Mars solar day, or about 24 hours and 37 minutes on Earth - Kahre will spend half of her time at Ames and half her time at Mission Control at JPL. As a member of the environmental science theme group, she will contribute to the planning of daily and longer-term rover science operations. Kahre will support the REMS science team by analyzing the meteorological data that is transmitted from Mars to Earth to create daily weather reports. Additionally, she will be running and analyzing results from the NASA Ames Mars General Circulation Model to help interpret the data. The combination of these activities will be used for planning future science activities. Kahre has a PhD in Astronomy and is interested in furthering our understanding of the Martian atmosphere, climate and weather through in situ meteorological measurements from the surface. For more information about REMS, visit:
A spacecraft specialist handling the REMS sensor. Spacecraft specialist with the REMS instrument. Diagram of REMS. Diagram of REMS instrument.