By Patrick Gasda
Just over 10 years ago, the space exploration community waited with bated breath through the “seven minutes of terror” as NASA’s Mars
Curiosity rover descended through the Martian atmosphere onto the planet’s surface.
The rover landed on Aug. 5, 2012, at the base of a mountain within the Gale Crater, which was chosen as a landing spot because of strong evidence that water once existed there. Water, of course, is a key ingredient for life.
We all breathed a sigh of relief after the rover successfully touched down and were eager to start exploring. We knew that what we found was going to be exciting, but we could not have predicted just how many important discoveries the mission would make — and continues to make, 10 years later.
Onboard Curiosity is ChemCam, an instrument co-developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the French Space Agency CNES that uses lasers to measure the chemical content of the rocks. The laser beam vaporizes a pinhead-sized area on the target up to 25 feet from the rover. A telescope and spectral analyzer then peers closely at the flash of light from the vaporized sample.
ChemCam has helped make a number of discoveries that have fundamentally changed how we understand Mars. One of the earliest discoveries ChemCam helped make was the detection of hydrogen in Martian soil and dust that covers most of the surface of Mars, which indicates that water leftover from its ancient past lakes and river still clings to these tiny particles.
Read the rest of the story as it appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.