Feeds

NASA's nuclear Mars tank gets improved cooker mod

Hungry robot to make soup of tenacious alien lifeforms

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

NASA's nuclear-powered robot laser tank, which the agency plans to land on Mars in 2012, will now be enhanced with a new automated lab experiment intended to discover evidence of life on the red planet. It's inventor seems confident that life - or anyway evidence of life in the past - is there to be found.

"Mars was a lot different 3½ billion years ago. It was more like Earth with liquid water," says NASA space boffin Jennifer Eigenbrode. "Maybe life existed back then. Maybe it has persisted, which is possible given the fact that we've found life in every extreme environment here on Earth. If life existed on Mars, maybe it adapted very much like life adapted here."

The space agency has long planned to send its "Mars Science Laboratory" (aka "Curiosity") super-rover vehicle to carry on the good work carried out in recent years by the existing, solar-powered "Spirit" and "Opportunity" planet-prowlers. It had once been hoped that MSL/Curiosity might land on Mars last year, but the date has since been put back.

The machine is expected to be able to analyse Martian dirt and rocks in more detail than the solar-powered rovers already there and move about with greater freedom, due to the larger amount of power available from its nuclear power source. It already included a complicated robotic chemical lab for analysing soil samples, the so-called Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit.

The SAM auto-lab features a pyrolytic oven and 74 teeny vials which can receive soil and rock samples scooped or drilled by the rover's robotic arm. The idea is that tiny lifeforms, having survived the terrible aeons of drought and airlessness since the red planet's lush wet past, will at last be baked to death by the Earthling robotank in order to discover their secrets. But it seems that mere baking isn't sufficient, in Eigenbrode's view, to sniff out the large organic molecules which could point to life on Mars. Proper scientific cookery, it seems, requires the use of ingredients and mixing as well.

Thus, after a good deal of testing and elephantine deliberations among the NASA hierarchy, it has now been decided that two of the 74 vials will be prefilled with a concoction of Eigenbrode's recommendation called tetramethylammonium hydroxide in methanol (TMAH). This, when heated with a sample, will give much more info on possibly life-related molecules.

Obviously, Eigenbrode's over beyond the moon about it.

"When I began working on my concept in early 2009, I thought it might be suitable for a future Mars mission, perhaps in 2016," she gushes. "I never thought that it would fly so soon on SAM. I believe we have really enhanced the capabilities of SAM should it find organic material. What I really want now is to find macromolecules on Mars."

"The range of organic molecules that SAM can detect has been expanded with no hardware modifications," adds NASA Martian robo-lab bigwig Paul Mahaffy, approvingly.

There's more from NASA here, including explicit pics of Eigenbrode clad in rubber gloves, wielding syringe and cookery jar. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?