People at NASA never stop to surprise me. Searching for water or presence of past life of Mars obviously needs drilling beneath the surface. So NASA is developing the Mars Underground Mole (MUM), based on a previous device used for the European Beagle 2 mission. But here is the twist. MUM will include sensors which were previously used to collect spectral imagery of Earth from pilotless aircrafts, especially Hawaii, according to NASA. While the Mole will stay on the surface on Mars and drill up to 5 meters deep, it will transmit data via a fiber optic cable to a digital array scanning interferometer (DASI). And the spectral images produced by the DASI will enable researchers to identify possible water, ice, organics and minerals under the surface on Mars. And this MUM will be a small one, weighing less than a kilogram for a length of only 50 centimeters.
Here is what NASA says about the project.
The Mole is shaped like an artillery shell. An internal sliding weight will drive the Mole into the soil. Once dug in, the Mole will connect by a tether to an apparatus on the surface. The tether will include power wires and a fiber optic cable that will transport light collected underground to a spectrometer on the surface above.
The images below are extracted from this short movie (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center).
||On this one, MUM is represented as a purple hexagon.|
||But MUM could have other shapes, just like this triangular-shaped lander shows. This variety of shapes ensures that MUM will be used for various missions.|
||Here, the 'light pipe' carries resulting spectral data back to the instruments on the surface.|
What is so special about this imaging technique?
The spectral images produced by DASI are composed of many different colors ranging from visible to infrared light. Each point of the image has spectra, rainbow-like arrays representing energy and light wavelengths that scientists can analyze. Like a fingerprint or a DNA profile, this 'spectral data' from the light reflected from a substance enables scientists to identify it. Researchers say they must be ready to identify possible water, ice, organics and minerals beneath the surface of Mars.
A lamp or laser source will illuminate soil samples through a window in the Mole. The system for collecting light underground and transmitting it to the surface is the primary new development used in the instrument.
One advantage of adapting the DASI for a Mars mission is that this instrument can be built very compactly," said Philip Hammer, a scientist at NASA Ames and co-investigator on the project. Because the DASI operates with fixed optics and no moving parts, it also is very stable under severe conditions. The entire Mole will weigh only about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) and be about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long.
And what about the calendar?
"One advantage of adapting the DASI for a Mars mission is that this instrument can be built very compactly," said Philip Hammer, a scientist at NASA Ames and co-investigator on the project. Because the DASI operates with fixed optics and no moving parts, it also is very stable under severe conditions. The entire Mole will weigh only about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) and be about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long.
"We expect to be ready to integrate the DASI instrument with the Mole by the end of 2004," said Carol Stoker, principal investigator of the project and a NASA Ames scientist. "We will then conduct laboratory and field tests of the system," she added. Laboratory chamber tests designed to simulate potential conditions on Mars will take place at NASA Ames, followed by field tests in Mars analog environments in the California desert on dry lakebeds. Later, tests may take place in permafrost conditions at Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Canada, Stoker said.
Now, let's wait until a real Mars mission comes to see if MUM really works.
Source: NASA news release, July 8, 2004