Was there ever life on Mars? Florence Tan will probably be one of the first to know. She is NASA’s lead electrical engineer for the instrument package on the Curiosity Rover now maneuvering over the dry landscape of the red planet. The package she helped design is called SAM for Sample Analysis on Mars.
Sample Analysis on Mars searches for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life and explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the martian ecosphere.
Actually a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer, SAM also looks for and measures the abundance of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life. Because these compounds are essential to life as we know it, their relative abundances will be an essential piece of information for evaluating whether Mars could have supported life in the past or present.
Her talk on the operations of the Curiosity Rover on Mars was organized by the Cornwall Library. It should be both interesting and thought provoking.