OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sampler Enters Final Assembly

OSIRIS-Rex, NASA’s first ever spacecraft designed to collect and retrieve pristine samples of an asteroid for return to Earth has entered its final assembly phase.

Approximately 17 months from now, OSIRIS-REx is slated to launch in the fall of 2016 and visit asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid.

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it “could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth,” says NASA.

The spacecraft is equipped with a suite of five science instruments to remotely study the 492 meter meter wide asteroid.

Eventually it will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by researchers here with all the most sophisticated science instruments available.

The precious sample would land arrive at Utah’s Test and Training Range in a sample return canister similar to the one for the Stardust spacecraft.

The OSIRIS-REx – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer – spacecraft passed a critical decision milestone on the road to launch and has been officially authorized by NASA to transition into this next mission phase.

The decision meeting to give the go ahead for final assembly was held at NASA Headquarters in Washington on March 30 and was chaired by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, led by former astronaut John Grunsfeld who was the lead spacewalker on the final shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

“This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in a stetement.

“After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”

In a clean room facility near Denver, Lockheed Martin  technicians began assembling a NASA spacecraft that will collect samples of an asteroid for scientific study. Working toward a September 2016 launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid back to Earth.  Credit: Lockheed Martin
In a clean room facility near Denver, Lockheed Martin technicians began assembling a NASA spacecraft that will collect samples of an asteroid for scientific study. Working toward a September 2016 launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid back to Earth. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The transition to the next phase known as ATLO (assembly, test and launch operations) is critical for the program because it is when the spacecraft physically comes together, says Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed is building OSIRIS-Rex in their Denver assembly facility.

“ATLO is a turning point in the progress of our mission. After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now starting flight system assembly and integration of the science instruments,” noted Lauretta.

Over the next six months, technicians will install on the spacecraft structure its many subsystems, including avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, thermal systems, and guidance, navigation and control, according to NASA.

“Building a spacecraft that will bring back samples from an asteroid is a unique opportunity,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.

“We can feel the momentum to launch building. We’re installing the electronics in the next few weeks and shortly after we’ll power-on the spacecraft for the first time.”

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and one solid rocket motor. Only three Atlas V’s have been launched in this configuration.

“In just over 500 days, we will begin our seven-year journey to Bennu and back. This is an exciting time,” said Lauretta.

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

The Atlas V with MMS launches, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni
OSIRIS-REx will launch in 2016 on an Atlas V similar to this one lofting NASA’s MMS satellites on March 12, 2015, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni

Significant progress in spacecraft assembly has already been accomplished at Lockheed’s Denver manufacturing facility.

“The spacecraft structure has been integrated with the propellant tank and propulsion system and is ready to begin system integration in the Lockheed Martin highbay,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

“The payload suite of cameras and sensors is well into its environmental test phase and will be delivered later this summer/fall.”

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

The most recent Atlas V launched NASA’s MMS quartet of Earth orbiting science probes on March 12, 2015.

OSIRIS-REx logo
OSIRIS-REx logo

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from asteroid 1999 RQ36. Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from asteroid 1999 RQ36. Credit: NASA
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
OSIRIS-REx is the 3rd mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program. It follows NASA’s Juno orbiter seen here soaring skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Happy New Year’s Day 2014 from Mars – Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols Spying Towering Mount Sharp Destination

Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014
NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras, in this cropped view. See full mosaic below. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).
Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

Today, New Year’s Day 2014, NASA’s Curiosity mega rover celebrates a huge mission milestone – her 500th Martian Day on the Red Planet since the death defying touchdown of August 2012.

“500 Sols of Mars: While Earth celebrates #NewYear2014, midnight on Mars mark my 500th day of operations,” she tweeted today.

And Curiosity marked the grand occasion by snapping a fabulous new panorama spying towering Mount Sharp – looming dead ahead in her high resolution color cameras.

You can take in the magnificent Martian view Curiosity sees today – via our newly assembled mosaic of humongous Mount Sharp rising 5.5 kilometers (3.4 mi) into the Red Planets sky; see above and below.

Ascending mysterious Mount Sharp – which dominates the Gale Crater landing site – is the ultimate reason for Curiosity’s being.

Curiosity marks 500 Sols on Mars on New Year’s Day Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL
Curiosity marks 500 Sols on Mars on New Year’s Day Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s science and engineering teams dispatched the state-of-the-art robot there because they believe the lower sedimentary layers hold the clues to the time period when Mars was habitable eons ago and they possess the required chemical ingredients necessary to sustain microbial life.

But first she needs to reach the mountains foothills.

So, just like some Earthlings, Curiosity also set a New Year’s resolution she’d like to share with you all – just tweeted all the way from the Red Planet.

“Goals for 2014: Finish driving to Mars’ Mount Sharp & do all the science I can.”

Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014.  NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).   Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014. NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494). Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Part of those goals involve shifting the missions focus to include the search for organic molecules – the building blocks of life as we know it – which may be preserved in the sedimentary rock layers.

“Really what we’re doing is turning the corner from a mission that is dedicated to the search for habitable environments to a mission that is now dedicated to the search for that subset of habitable environments which also preserves organic carbon,” Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said recently at the Dec. 2013 annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The 1 ton behemoth is in the midst of an epic trek to destination Mount Sharp, roving across 10 kilometers (6 mi.) of the rather rocky crater floor of her landing site inside Gale Crater.

This illustration depicts a concept for the possible extent of an ancient lake inside Gale Crater. The existence of a lake there billions of years ago was confirmed by Curiosity from examination of mudstone in the crater's Yellowknife Bay area.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This illustration depicts a concept for the possible extent of an ancient lake inside Gale Crater. The existence of a lake there billions of years ago was confirmed by Curiosity from examination of mudstone in the crater’s Yellowknife Bay area. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

But the alien crater floor strewn with a plethora of sharp edged rocks is ripping significant sized holes and causing numerous dents in several of the rovers six big aluminum wheels – as outlined in my prior report; here.

Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels – most noticeably the two here in middle and front. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com See below complete 6 wheel mosaic and further wheel mosaics for comparison
Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels – most noticeably the two here in middle and front. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“Routes to future destinations for the mission may be charted to lessen the amount of travel over such rough terrain, compared to smoother ground nearby,” says NASA.

So far Curiosity’s odometer stands at 4.6 kilometers, following a post Christmas drive on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) after 16 months roving the Red Planet.

Curiosity’s handlers will be diligently watching the wear and tear on the 20 inch diameter wheels. She needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks.

Here’s our latest wheel mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) showing a several centimeter wide puncture in the left front wheel, which seems to have suffered the most damage.

The Mount Sharp and wheel mosaics were assembled by the imaging team of Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Up close view of puncture in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Up close view of puncture in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

“Taking stock this holiday season. I’m planning smoother paths for the new year,” Curiosity tweeted.

The team hopes the intrepid robot arrives at the base of Mount Sharp around the middle of this new year 2014, if all goes well.

Shortly thereafter the robot begins a new phase with the dramatic ascent up the chosen entryway which the team dubs the ‘Murray Buttes’ – fittingly named in honor of Bruce Murray, a Caltech planetary geologist, who worked on science teams of NASA’s earliest missions to Mars in the 1960s and ’70s.

The rocky road ahead towards the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray Buttes entry point is shown in this mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).  Curiosity needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks.  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
The rocky road ahead towards the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray Buttes entry point is shown in this mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494). Curiosity needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Murray also was the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1976 to 1982 and co-founded the Planetary Society in 1980. He passed away on Aug. 29, 2013.

“Bruce Murray contributed both scientific insight and leadership that laid the groundwork for interplanetary missions such as robotic missions to Mars, including the Mars rovers, part of America’s inspirational accomplishments. It is fitting that the rover teams have chosen his name for significant landmarks on their expeditions,” said NASA Mars Exploration Program Manager Fuk Li, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) , Pasadena, Calif.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary goal of discovering a habitable zone on Mars that could support Martian microbes if they ever existed.

NASA’s rover Curiosity uncovered evidence that an ancient Martian lake had the right chemical ingredients, including clay minerals that could have sustained microbial life forms for long periods of time – and that these habitable conditions persisted on the Red Planet until a more recent epoch than previously thought.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Opportunity rover is ascending Solander Point on the opposite side of Mars.

And a pair of newly launched orbiters are streaking to the Red Planet; NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM.

And China’s new Yutu lunar rover and Chang’e-3 lander are napping through the lunar night.

For a great compilation of the top space events in 2013- read this article.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rover and MOM news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Curiosity, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Curiosity is Back! Snapping Fresh Martian Vistas

Curiosity is back! After a multi-week hiatus forced by a computer memory glitch, NASA’s mega rover is back to full operation.

And the proof is crystal clear in the beautiful new panoramic view (above) snapped by Curiosity this weekend from Yellowknife Bay, showing the robot’s arm and drill elevated and aiming straight at you – raring to go and ready to feast on something deliciously Martian.

“That drill is hungry, looking for something tasty to eat, and ‘you’ (loaded with water and organics) are it,” I thought with a chuckle as Curiosity seeks additional habitats and ingredients friendly to life.

So my imaging partner Marco Di Lorenzo and I celebrated the great news by quickly creating the new panoramic mosaic assembled from images taken on Saturday, March 23, or Sol 223, by the robot’s navigation cameras. Our new Curiosity mosaic was first featured on Saturday at NBC News Cosmic Log by Alan Boyle – while I was hunting for Comet Pan-STARRS.

So the fact that Curiosity is again snapping images and transmitting fresh alien vistas and new science data is a relief to eagerly waiting scientists and engineers here on Earth.

Drilling goes to the heart of the mission. It was absolutely essential to the key finding of Curiosity’s Martian foray thus far – that Mars possesses an environment where alien microbes could once have thrived in the distant past when the Red Planet was warmer and wetter.

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity has found widespread evidence for repeated episodes of flowing liquid water on the floor of her Gale Crater landing site – an essential prerequisite to life as we know it.

After coring and analyzing the first powder ever drilled from the interior of a Martian rock in February 2013, NASA’s Curiosity robot discovered some of the key chemical ingredients necessary to support life on early Mars billions of years ago.

Curiosity found that the fine-grained, sedimentary mudstone rock at the rovers current worksite inside the Yellowknife Bay basin possesses significant amounts of phyllosilicate clay minerals; indicating the flow of nearly neutral liquid water and a habitat friendly to the possible origin of simple Martian life forms eons ago.

Curiosity's First Sample Drilling hole is shown at the center of this image in a rock called "John Klein" on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 operations. The image was obtained by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The “mini drill” test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity’s First Sample Drilling hole is shown at the center of this image in a rock called “John Klein” on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 operations. The image was obtained by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The “mini drill” test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rovers 7 foot (2.1 meter) long robotic arm fed aspirin sized samples of the gray, pulverized powder into the miniaturized CheMin and SAM analytical instruments on Feb. 22 and 23, or Sols 195 and 196. The samples were analyzed on Sol 200 and then the rover experienced her first significant problems since landing on Aug. 5, 2012.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments test the Martian soil and rock samples to determine their chemical composition and search for traces of organic molecules – the building blocks of life

No organics have been found thus far.

The rover’s science mission has been on hold for nearly a month since “a memory glitch on the A-side computer on Feb. 27, which prompted controllers to command a swap from the A-side computer to the B-side computer,” according to a NASA statement.

“That operator-commanded swap put Curiosity into safe mode for two days. The rover team restored the availability of the A-side as a backup and prepared the B-side to resume full operations.”

The memory issue may have been caused by a cosmic ray strike. The rover suffered another minor setback last week, briefly reentering ‘safe mode’. And in between, a solar storm forced the team to shut Curiosity down for a few more days.

All appears well now.

The next step is to reanalyze those 1st gray rock tailings to continue the hunt for traces of organic molecules.

But the next solar conjunction will interrupt communications starting around April 4 for several weeks. More on that shortly.

After conjunction, Curiosity will resume her drilling campaign

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Curiosity’s groundbreaking discoveries and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus Orion, SpaceX, Antares, the Space Shuttle and more! NEAF Astronomy Forum, Suffern, NY

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

Rover self portrait MAHLI mosaic taken this week has Curiosity sitting on the flat rocks of the “John Klein” drilling target area within the Yellowknife Bay depression. Note gradual rise behind rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/www.KenKremer.com.
Rover self portrait MAHLI mosaic taken this week has Curiosity sitting on the flat rocks of the “John Klein” drilling target area within the Yellowknife Bay depression. Note gradual rise behind rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Is Historic Discovery imminent concerning Martian Organic Chemistry ?

Image caption: Curiosity scoops repeatedly into this Martian soil at windblown ripple dubbed ‘Rocknest’, shown in this mosaic, and delivered samples to the SAM chemistry instrument, on the robots deck, to search for any signatures of organic molecules – the building blocks of life. This color mosaic was stitched together from hi-res color images taken by the robots 34 mm Mastcam camera on Sols 93 and 74. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS/Ken Kremer / Marco Di Lorenzo

Has Curiosity made a ‘Historic’ science discovery with the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) chemistry instrument that analyzes Martian soil (see mosaic above) and is designed to detect organic molecules – the building blocks of life? Has Curiosity unambiguously and directly detected the first signatures of organics on Mars ? Is an announcement imminent?

Speculation is rampant that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has made an earth-shaking discovery ‘for the history books’ , following a radio interview by NPR’s Joe Palca with the mission’s Principal Investigator, John Grotzinger, while sitting in his office at Caltech last week. NPR reported the story on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

“We’ve got a briefing on Monday [Dec 3] where we’ll discuss our results,” John Grotzinger told me.

Grotzinger will describe the SAM data and their potentially pivotal implications at the annual meeting of the AGU (American Geophysical Union) being held from Dec 3-7 in San Francisco. Many papers and results from the first three months of the Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) mission will be presented at the AGU meeting.

“The science team is analyzing data from SAM’s soil inspection, but not ready to discuss yet,” JPL Press spokesman Guy Webster informed me today.

It’s the Thanksgiving holiday period here in the US so the answers will wait a tad longer.


Image Caption: Curiosity Self Portrait with Mount Sharp at Rocknest ripple in Gale Crater. Curiosity used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the robotic arm to image herself and her target destination Mount Sharp in the background.SAM chemistry suite located on robot’s deck near Mast. To the left is the northern rim wall of Gale Crater. This color panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 85 (Nov. 1, 2012). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity had been collecting and analyzing Martian soil samples for more than a month at a windblown ripple called ‘Rocknest’. So far Curiosity has scooped into the Martian soil five times and delivered a single sample to SAM and two to the adjacent CheMin chemistry instrument.

“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” Grotzinger went on to say to NPR. “It’s looking really good.”

JPL Press spokesman Guy Webster advises caution and patience while damping down euphoria. He told me that the team is still trying to interpret and understand the analysis from SAM and seeking to clarify their meaning before making any premature conclusions.

“This is no change from the policy with past results from the mission, such as SAM’s atmosphere analysis or CheMin’s soil sample analysis: The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team,” Webster informed me.

“As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books. John was delighted about the quality and range of information coming in from SAM during the day a reporter happened to be sitting in John’s office last week. He has been similarly delighted by results at other points during the mission so far,” Webster said.

Organic molecules are the basis for life as we know it, and they have never before been discovered on the Red Planet’s surface. I am an organic chemist and to me the detection of organics on Mars would indeed be “Earth-shaking”. But just a finding of organics alone does NOT mean we discovered life. Organics are a prerequisite to life. Life requires finding much more complex molecules, like amino acids and far more beyond that.

Furthermore, finding signatures of organics so close to the surface might be a surprising result when one recalls that highly destructive ionizing radiation bombards the Martian topsoil 24/7.

So, it’s wise for the MSL team to be abundantly cautious and recheck their results multiple times. They wisely waited for further data before prematurely announcing the discovery of Martian methane. Initial SAM atmospheric measurements detecting methane turned out to be false – they actually originated from contamination by residual traces of Florida air trapped in the interior chambers of SAM and were carried all the way to Mars.

If organics are detected in the dusty dunes at Rocknest, the implications could be vast and potentially point to their widespread distribution across Gale crater and beyond.

As renowned astronomer Carl Sagan once said; ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Stay tuned.

Learn more about Curiosity’s groundbreaking discoveries, SAM and NASA missions at my upcoming free public presentations:

– – on Dec. 6 held at Brookdale Community College, Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ at 8 PM – hosted by STAR astronomy

– – and on Dec 11 held at Princeton University and the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP) in Princeton, NJ at 8 PM.

Ken Kremer

…..

Dec 6: Free Public lecture titled “Atlantis, The Premature End of America’s Shuttle Program and What’s Beyond for NASA” including Curiosity, Orion, SpaceX and more by Ken Kremer at Brookdale Community College/Monmouth Museum and STAR Astronomy club in Lincroft, NJ at 8 PM

Dec 11: Free Public lecture titled “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars (in 3 D)” and more by Ken Kremer at Princeton University and the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP) in Princeton, NJ at 8 PM.