Mars Exploration Driven by Curiosity

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 12.12.2012


BORIS DEBIC: Welcome everyone to yet another
Space at Google Talk.
Today we have the privilege of hosting Dr. Michael Meyer,
NASA scientist, head of Mars science at NASA.
I'm going to read a little bit from his biography because
it's interesting and it shows you the path on how to become
a head of Mars science.

So Michael Meyer is a senior scientist at NASA headquarters
in the science mission directorate.
He's the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration
Program, responsible for the science content of current and
future Mars missions, and program scientist for the Mars
Science Laboratory, the Curiosity mission.
During this period, Dr. Meyer has also served as the Science
Liaison for Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee.
And he was also awarded the Presidential Rank Award for
meritorious professional service.
Meyer was the senior scientist for astrobiology and program
scientist for the Mars Odyssey mission that was launched in
2001 and is still orbiting Mars.
The astrobiology program started in 1997, with Dr.
Meyer as the discipline scientist.
So he actually made his own discipline.

And the discipline is dedicated to the study of the
life in universe.
Since 1993, Dr. Meyer managed NASA's exobiology program.
And from '94 to '97, Dr. Meyer was also the Planetary
Protection Officer for NASA, responsible for mission
compliance to NASA's policy concerning forward and back
contamination during planetary exploration.
Dr. Meyer was the program scientist for the Mars
Microprobe mission, DS-2, and for two phase one Shuttle-Mir
Meyer was detailed from the Desert Research Institute.
So this was at the University of Nevada, where he was an
assistant research professor from 1989 to 1997.
From 1985 to 1989, he served as Associate Director and
Associate in Research for the Polar Desert Research Station,
Department of Biological Science, Florida State
In 1998, he was a visiting Research Scientist at the
Culture Center for Algae and Protozoa
in Cambridge, England.
Dr. Meyer's primary research interest is in microorganisms
living in extreme conditions, particularly the physical
factors controlling microbial growth and survival.
He has conducted field research in the Gobi Desert,
the Negev Desert, Siberia, and the Canadian Arctic.
He's also a veteran of six research expeditions to
Antarctica to study microbial ecosystems in the McMurdo Dry
Valleys, and investigate krill-phytoplankton relations,
and research primary productivity
into the Weddell Sea.
His experience also includes two summers working as a
treasure salvager off the coast of
Florida and North Carolina.

So when it comes to little things that live in difficult
places, I think Dr. Meyer here is the expert for the field.
So please welcome Dr. Michael Meyer.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: It's my pleasure to come here.
And obviously, when I was growing up, I didn't have as
my ultimate goal to be the lead
scientist of the Mars program.
It just happened that way.
What I'd like to do is give you a little bit of overview
of the Mars program and then really dig into what the
mission Curiosity is doing, how we got there, and its
capabilities on the surface of Mars.
So first off, if we do a
comparison, these are a stretch.
But they're approximately the right size in reference to
each other.
So the thing that you want to note is Mars is about half the
size in diameter of Earth.
And it is impressive how big the moon is compared to our
planetary brethren.
What I do is point out, there's a couple of major
Half the diameter has about 1/3 third the gravity, has
less than 1/100 the atmosphere.
Mars has 1/100 the atmosphere that Earth has.
Mars has a slightly elliptical orbit, so its
seasons are not symmetric.

Its atmosphere is over 95% carbon dioxide.
The atmosphere of Earth is mostly nitrogen and a fair
amount of oxygen.
So there are major differences.
But there are some similarities.
One is, they were formed at the same time, 4.567
billion years ago.
They're terrestrial planets.

Mars, early on, apparently--
this is what we're really investigating--
was warmer and wetter, may have had water on the surface.
At the same time that life started on Earth, Mars was
more like Earth.
And because of that, we see it as a potential
for having had life.

Almost more importantly, Mars today does not seem to have
plate tectonics.
We look at its surface and over half of it is ancient.
There's ancient rocks on the surface.
This is not the case with our planet.
Our planet has plate tectonics, has biology.
It has erosion.
We have a relatively new surface to look at.
Because of that, the record of what happened on this planet
to get life started and early evolution is
almost completely erased.
We only have a few examples.
We don't have the record here.
But Mars will have the record of what was going on in the
first billion years of history in our solar system, at a time
that life started in our solar system.
So by going there, we can explore what would have been
happening in the solar system when life got started.
We might even have evidence of life starting on that planet,
and maybe even its evolution.
So because of that, Mars holds a really great potential to
not only inform us about planetary processes, early
evolution, that sort of thing, but also inform us about how
we got started.
So for that, it's a good reason to explore Mars.
So we've had a program and it's been very successful.
And it's culminated in Curiosity landing on the
surface, August 6, universal time.
We have a maiden plan to launch in 2013.
And the big news two days ago was, in fact, we have a
program that takes us in the future--


There we go.
Oh my god.
We lost it.
So what I want to point out here is that in yellow, we
have collaborations with the Europeans.
So we've been doing that all along.
And so after 2013, we weren't sure what we were going to be
able do as an agency in terms of Mars exploration.
But as it turns out, we're contributing communications
with ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.
We've selected Discovery mission that is going to go to
the surface and do seismometry and heat flow measurements of
the surface.
Our first geophysical mission, really, to the red planet.
ESA is sending a rover with life detection
capabilities in 2018.
And we're building a major portion of the organic
analyzer to be incorporated in that.
And what was announced on Tuesday is, in fact, we are
planning to send another rover based on the MSL architecture
to explore Mars.
So we have a future.
We have things to do.
Having a program is great.
We learn lots of things.
Some of things that have happened the last decade and a
half is that we've been able to map out the planet,
extremely accurately, in terms of altitude.
We've been able to measure the impact rates and also tells us
where ice is in the subsurface.
The role of carbon with Mars.
There's reduced carbon in that ALH84001, but also somewhere
on the planet Mars.
There is a hint from magnetometer measurements
that, at some point in time, Mars did have plate tectonics.
Now, more research has to be done to verify that.
We found where the water is, where the ice is, the
structure of the crust.
It's actually thicker than we thought.
One of the big boons in orbital science in the last
two missions is, in fact--
I shouldn't be talking--
we see minerals on the surface that have been in association
with water.
We can see broad areas of what was going on in the planet.
And then one of things that's revealed itself as we thought
more about it is that Mars, because it goes through times
when it really tilts over on its axis and comes back, when
it tilts way over, ice will form all over the planet.
And then when it tilts back, that ice can get covered.
And we can have basically buried glaciers across the
planet that are not in equilibrium.
But because they're buried, they're insulated.
And they'll last well beyond--
they should be.
So we have sources of water in the mid-latitudes on Mars that
shouldn't be there.
But they're left over the last time Mars
tilted over on its axis.
And what this does is it provides an opportunity for
disequilibrium, which life could take advantage of.
Speaking of looking for water, we found it in
many different forms.
Mars Odyssey found water in the subsurface at the poles,
lots of it.
It really boosts our estimation of the inventory of
water on the planet.
It just happens to be in the form of ice.
We've also measured it with the radar, and know the
thickness of it.
We've seen flow features on Mars.
And this has been very intriguing in helping us
convince that early on Mars probably had a
warmer, wetter climate.
And in particular, if you look at this, it's a perfect
picture of a delta.
A delta is, you have water flowing into standing water,
similar to what happens in New Orleans.
It's picture perfect.
It really does encourage us that we had at least water
stable enough on the surface that you could have a lake for
a period of time.
Mars Exploration rovers.
This one happens be from Opportunity.
It found calcium sulfate.
This is gypsum.
This forms in water.
This is stuck in a vein.
So water was actually liquid, concentrated in calcium
sulfate, and then as it evaporated, left that deposit.
And then Curiosity just recently announced, now I
guess it's about a month ago, finding this bedrock that
looked like Russian cement.
It's a conglomerate.
We find those on Earth in the bottom of riverbeds.
So this is the best evidence today that we had flowing
water on the surface of Mars.
So let's talk about Curiosity.
We've had a progression in rover capabilities.
Basically, the real purpose is to increase the proportion of
instrumentation that we can take to the surface and what
we're able to do with it.
So basically, if we look at Spirit and Opportunity, their
instrumentation only weighed about 5 to 7 kilograms,
depending upon what parts of it you want to count.
And rover itself was 175 kilograms.
But if we look at Curiosity, 900 kilogram rover, but it's
carrying close to 100 kilograms of instrumentation.
So we've increased the percentage of what we can
carry to the surface and certainly vastly increased the
So let me go quickly through the instruments
as they show up.
DAN, a Dynamic Albedo Neutron, measure neutrons, which are a
proxy for hydrogen.
And so it could tell you how much hydrogen, AKA water, is
in the first meter of the subsurface.
REMS is the weather station.
Mastcam is a binocular camera, several different filter
wheels, highly capable.
We'll see some pictures of that later.
ChemCam is a laser induced breakdown spectrometer.
This is the first time we've sent this type of instrument
to another planet.
It shoots a laser, plasmolyzes whatever it's shooting.
And when that plasma cools, it gives off light in certain
And the spectrometer can measure that.
So it gives you elemental composition.
And so if it was in this room, it could basically sample the
whole room in terms of what things are made out of,
including you.
Radiation detector, this is a high energy radiation
detector, a broad spectrum.
And what that does, it gives us a very good idea of how the
radiation environment out in space, as it comes through the
atmosphere, it gets translated.
So one of the issues maybe with health is that, although
galactic cosmic rays are dangerous, what they might
generate as they come through the atmosphere actually might
be more dangerous, or less.
And that's good to know.
And also we suspect that there's a very important
interaction with radiation on the surface of Mars and the
photochemistry that may be going on on the surface.
The far right is MAHLI.
That's the hand lens imager.
It can see down to about 14 microns.
It has its own light source.
It also has a UV light source.
So sometime in the future as we're playing around with it,
we'll see if there's any fluorescence.
But the real job is to look at mineral grains in rocks.
APXS, Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, gives us
elemental composition.
This is a new and improved version of what's on
Opportunity and Spirit, and also what was on Pathfinder
for that matter.
MARDI is a descent imager.
So basically it's primary function is already over.
It was designed to just basically image as we got
toward the surface.
The highlight of this mission is that it's a roving
analytical laboratory.
And its laboratory are two instruments, CheMin and SAM.
CheMin is an x-ray diffraction, x-ray fluorescent
What it does is it gives you mineralogy.
It tells you what the minerals are, what the
spacing is in the atoms.
SAM is a gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer, tunable
laser system.
Basically what this does is tells you what everything's
made out of.
So it's these two--
I've given you mineralogy and what they're made out of--
greatly complement each other and really vastly improves
what we can get out of the rocks we find on the surface
of Mars to determine what the environment was when these
rocks were made.
So we took that rover, packaged
it into this aeroshell.
Give you an idea of the size, here's a real person who's
about average.
I realized when I was going through the slides, I didn't
have any pictures of the sky crane system, because I
assumed that everybody has seen "7 Minutes of Terror."
But I'll just remind you that, besides packaging it up, you
have to unpack it.
And you have this weird Rube Goldberg device of having your
Rover hanging down from a bridle with the retrorockets
up in space.
We launched it November 26.
Picture perfect.
This is a picture of the back of the cruise stage with solar
panels on it.
And on the way, we did science.
RAD was turned on, radiation detector.
And it was an interesting experiment.
Well one, it works.
And another satellite, ACeS, was also measuring radiation
in a similar environment.
And so they both detected the same thing.
But one of the nuances of this is interesting, is radiation
detector being inside the whole capsule would be seeing
the same radiation as if you were an astronaut in a
capsule, in the Orion capsule going off somewhere.
So this is a nice first measurement that gives us an
idea of what the real radiation environment is for
an astronaut as they're on their cruise to some other
So one of the really nice improvements in our
capabilities in exploring have been on the engineering side.
And this one is the most graphic example.
We did not send all these spacecraft
here to Gale Crater.
But I put the landing ellipses there to show you how we
progressed from Viking, which landed in '76, its size of its
landing ellipse.
Pathfinder, approximately 150 kilometers
in its longest diameter.
Mars Exploration rovers, a little bit smaller, down to
about 100 kilometers.
Phoenix is smaller than that.
And then MSL Curiosity, we have a landing ellipse at the
most 20 kilometers in diameter in the long axes.
The importance of this is there's no way we could have
gone to Gale Crater, a place that has morphological
evidence that water interacted with stuff, layering.
So there's a history to reveal.
And also mineralogical evidence of a place that's
interacted with water.
We could not have gone there with any other mission to this
date until MSL, because we needed that small landing
ellipse to be able to place everything where
we needed to go.
Well, the good news is we landed successfully.
We're still not quite up to 50%, but doing pretty good.
So let me show you this.
This is a video of the descent imager--
what was seen by the descent imager.
So this is what the imager saw during the process of
unpacking the cruise stage and dropping toward
the surface of Mars.
-have been reenabled.
We will control attitude on chutes.
We are decelerating.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So that's the heat shield dropping away.
-We are 150 meters per second.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: And if you watch closely, you can
actually see it hit the surface, similar to Wile.
E. Coyote.
-Risk mode is nominal.

MICHAEL A. MEYER: And so this movement right now that you're
seeing is actually the rover, the back shell and everything,
and the rover packed into it, swinging around
underneath the parachute.

-We're standing by to prime the [? Emily ?] engine in
preparation for power flight.

We're down to 90 meters per second at an altitude of 6.5
kilometers descending.

MICHAEL A. MEYER: At the time, about 14 minutes, so this is
actually onboard.
So if it didn't work, we wouldn't have any images.
So this was not streamed back during the telemetry.
-We're down to 86 meters per second at an altitude

We have lost [INAUDIBLE] from Earth at this time.
This is expected.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So they're trying to get the radar,
getting a signal back from the radar to see how far away.
Get a ground solution on it.

So in a minute, you'll see the image jump.
And that's basically the rover being dropped
out of the back shell.

Which if you've ever seen the video, that scares the hell
out of me every single time.
So now, picture stabilizes.
It's now under its own flight.

It's getting close.
Now it's going to start lowering the rover itself
underneath the jet pack.
-Constant velocity accordion nominal.
Altitude error, 5.9 meters.
-We've found a nice, flat place.
We're coming in ready for sky crane.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: Some interaction of the
retrorockets with the surface, even though
they're 20 feet away.
The wheels just dropped down.
-Sky crane has started.
Descending at about 0.75 meters
per second as expecting.
Expecting arrival time shortly.
-Signal to Odyssey remains strong.
-Tango delta nominal.

MICHAEL A. MEYER: So everybody now is holding their rabbit's
foot and biting their tongue.
But actually, you can see right here, you can see the
pebbles on the surface.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: I'm sure that wasn't me.

If you have a chance, go ahead and look at it online.
The resolution is better.
But one of the interesting things with this is, looking
at that, we're really worried about the rocket plume just
causing all sorts of distortion, that you wouldn't
be able to see anything on the surface.
And when we analyze it, there's several features that
even during all the dust flying around and everything,
you can still see those features.
And so what that means is that you can do terrain recognition
and hazard avoidance on the next mission, if you care to
spend the money to do it.
But it means it's possible.
So that really is a good harbinger for the next mission
that we send to the surface, in terms of ability to get to
where we want to go.
So here's a landing site picture taken by a Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, HiRISE.
And that actually is the rover and a little bit of bright
spots next to it from the rocket plume.
This whole area is in fact affected by the retrorockets.

With a little more analysis, we see all the pieces that
were involved in getting through the atmosphere and
landing safely on the planet.
And in fact, HiRISE was even able to take a picture of the
back shell and the parachute as it is descending through
the atmosphere.
In terms of capabilities, it's just fantastic.
So this gives you an idea of the final moments.
And you can even see its scour spots from the retrorockets
interacting with the surface of Mars.

Oh, yeah.
And we put the name on here, just in case you go to Mars
looking for one of the rovers.
You want to pick up the right one.
This one's labeled, no mistake.
This is looking on the north rim of the crater.
This is probably about 40 miles away, giving you an idea
of the capabilities of the camera.
And looking to the south of us, that's Mount Sharp.
This is the reason why we're going to Gale Crater.
This mountain--
doesn't look very big here--
is five kilometers high.
The reason why we picked it is because we can see layers, at
least in the bottom third.
And the layers have minerals associated with them.
We have clays and we have sulfates.
And so we know that we have a record of the time when Mars
went from being warmer and wetter, kind of neutral, to
being a colder and drier and more acidic planet.
So we're hoping as we explore Mount Sharp and go up there,
we can actually sort through Mars as it went through this
major transition of going from a more benign planet to the
one it is today.
Using the M100 camera on the Mastcam, look over here at the
toe of Mount Sharp.
This is where we think the entrance is,
where we want to go.
This gives you an idea.
You can see the layering.
We can see that there are sediments there.
We know that we landed in the right spot because those
layers are leaves of a book that will reveal the history
of Mars and its climate evolution.
And just to give you an idea of how spectacular this camera
is, that little dot right there is, in
fact, the size of Curiosity.
And so when we get there and start climbing up along the
valleys here as we explore, it should be a
pretty spectacular journey.
So now let me show you some baby pictures.
This is the Mastcam plus the spectrometer lens of the LIBS
instrument, the ChemCam.
ChemCam works amazingly well.
With one shot, it feeds information to three different
spectrometers of full broad wavelength, from infrared to
The picture on your right is the first rock that it zotted,
And it's worked spectacularly well, and it's going to be a
fantastic survey instrument.
Here you can see one of things that that lens does is that
you can use it as a imager.
And so you can see exactly where you shot the rock.
And so you can see five shots over on the right hand side.
And the importance of this is rocks are heterogeneous.
When you hit one small spot, you have to know whether or
not you hit a feldspar or another crystal.
So you get an idea of what exactly you shot when you get
the elemental composition.
This is a pretty neat way to explore.
The public has a slightly different view of how we're
doing this.

So this is a self portrait of Curiosity in an
area called Rock Nest.
This is where we spent approximately a month and a
half digging in the dirt and measuring rocks in the area.
And you can see right here, five scoops of where it's been
digging up the sand and dust, running it through the system,
primarily to clean out the system.
Any earth organics that we might have brought with us,
we're rinsing out the whole sampling system with Mars dirt
to reduce any potential contamination.
And that's worked fairly well.
And this is the first time we've taken solid samples and
fed it into the analytical laboratory.
Just as a note in terms of contact
instruments, that's the arm.
Out on the arm we have two instruments, APXS and MAHLI,
and then also a drill.
And so here on the left is MAHLI with its lights on.
You can see two white lights right there.
The UV lights are also on.
And if you flip back and forth from them on and not on, you
can start to see a blue haze from the UV lights.
And then over on the right hand side is alpha particle
X-ray spectrometer.
So here, MAHLI works extremely well.
It does some z-stacking.
It has infinite focus.
And so one of the nice things it can do is go through, take
a whole series of pictures.
And then you can pick which one you really want and
they'll all be in focus.
Here's a spectra of APXS.
The important thing of this is is that we're seeing elemental
The instrument's working.
And this is a basalt, what we expected.
But we're just starting things.
We're getting a background of information on Mars.
And it's just nice to see the
confirmation of what we expected.
We have a weather station.
One of the things that really amazes me is the range of
temperatures that you suffer every single day on the
surface of Mars.
We're seeing almost 100 degrees
in Fahrenheit variation.
This does have some very practical effects, such as the
arm will grow and shrink by one centimeter, just because
of temperature change.
Not a good thing if you're in the middle of drilling and
having that kind of movement.
One of things that really surprised me, I didn't quite
realize it, is that you have pressure changes every single
day on the order of 10%.
That's huge.
If you were there, you'd be popping your
ears every two hours.
It turns out that this is all thermally derived.
The atmosphere is so thin.
The surface facing the sun heats up tremendously and
causes a huge circulation, and actually a big pressure wave,
that just basically moves around the planet as it
follows the heating of the surface, causing a 10%
variation in the pressure.
I just want to show you here one of the things that came up
recently is MARCI, the camera on MRO, spotted
a dust storm brewing.
Pretty good size, these white arrows mark it out.

Of concern to Curiosity because it affects imagery and
that sort of thing that you're taking.
You might want to buckle down with your cameras.
Close the hand lens dust cover.
But it's a bigger problem for Opportunity
since it's solar powered.
It turns out that that dissipated.
And so one of the nice things to do, we have a weather
station on Mars.
We have orbital information.
It is-- be really good to get an understanding of why some
of these pretty large dust storms show up and then
disappear, while sometimes they'll show up and then go
global, which has happened in the past.
DAN is showing you your thermal
and epithermal neutrons.
The variation between the thermal-epithermal neutrons
tells you whether or not there's water in the
That's working very well.
And it's doing a survey.
So as it moves along, it gives us an idea.
They've seen as much as a twofold
variation in hydrogen content.
So this is the overall near term plan.
We landed in Bradbury landing.
We have this Hummocky unit that we've been exploring.
Over here, we see this crater terrain, which is very typical
of much of Mars.
So for some reason, it's more consolidated.
The impacts on it last longer.
That's what gives Mars the old look to it, particularly in
the highlands.
And then the third terrain, what we call the fractured
unit, seems to be an extension of whatever caused the
alluvial fan coming into Gale Crater.
And this seems to be lowest part of it.
And so we've been headed to an area called Glenelg with the
because we're going the wrong direction in terms of getting
to Mount Sharp--
that we'll just go back in the same direction
when we head out.
And Glenelg will look the same coming and going, being a
So here's where we landed, right here.
We had pegged this area for having a alluvial fan, but we
had no mineralogy that clued us into what it really was,
because it's covered with dust.
But it did have a high thermal inertia.
So we suspected that there was consolidated rocks
underneath that dust.
And we weren't sure what it was.
When we landed, this is one of the scours
right next to the rover.
We went another 30 meters or so.
We found another outcrop that looked just like this.
This is bedrock.
You see these round pebbles.
You see the matrix itself that's stuck together.
And then also a third place about 100 meters away from the
original landing site, we see more of this, what looks like
Roman concrete.
We landed on a river bed.
A river that was ankle to waist deep, fairly rapid flow.
We're in the right place.
That water had to go somewhere.
We're thinking at the Glenelg area.
It's the lowest lying area near there.
So maybe the water pooled there.
So we're headed in that direction.
So let me talk a little bit more about the other
SAM, in of itself, is pretty complicated.
It has 54 valves, 52 heaters.
It's amazing it works at all.

And we've done some atmospheric measurements.

These are not real surprises, although the amount of
nitrogen was a little bit more than we expected.
But you see argon and nitrogen are the second two major
What will be interesting as we sort through isotopes,
figuring out what has happened to the atmosphere through
time, the isotopes will give us a clue.
So the meteorite that clued us in to the fact we had Martian
meteorites was EETA, which stands Elephant Hills, 79001.
It had glass inclusions.
They were able to measure the gas trapped by that glass.
And that pegged them to Mars.
And now we have some measurements.
These match up great with those.
It proves that those are Martian meteorites.
But also what this does is portends some great results
that we're going to have in the future as we're looking at
different isotopes that tell us the processes that caused
Mars to lose so much of its atmosphere.

So as I mentioned earlier, we spent a good portion of time
at Rock Nest.
Here's a picture of the arm getting a scoop.
And this is results from CheMin.
This is the x-ray diffraction, x-ray fluorescence.
What happens is the x-rays go through the sample.
They get bent by how the atoms are arranged with each other.
And then basically, the brightness and distancing of
this tells you exactly what kind of minerals are there.
Very effective.
10 minutes later, you have a result.
This is fantastic.
To give you an idea of what went into doing this, this is
what an XRD/XRF looks like in the lab.
They've had to package it down to fit on SAM.
And now there's a commercial version
that fits in a briefcase.
So you can take it out in the field and do mineralogy right
there, which is fantastic.
It's also been adapted by the Carnegie to look at minerals
in paints and that sort of thing.
And this is Giacomo Chiari, who's the head
of curation at Carnegie.
And so that's cool that it's being used in that way also.
We also have results from SAM.

This is what's called evolved gas analysis.
You take your sample.
You heat it up.
And the more you put into it, it starts breaking down.
It gives off gases.
It gives off oxygen, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide.
And there's approximately 200 channels or so.
So this is just the plot of some of the channels that give
you more information of basically the molecular weight
of oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfate.
So that works.
It can really tell you what the rocks are made out of.
One of the interesting things is that they found chlorine
compounds coming off at very specific points.
And so what this does is point to potentially perchlorate.
This is something that was found by Phoenix in the polar
layer terrain.
There was no expectation or agnostic about whether or not
perchlorate was only in polar areas or whether or not this
would be global.
And here we are near the equator.
And we're finding some perchlorate.
And this has significant effects on
looking at organic compounds.
And it looks to us like the traces of organic compounds
that we're finding, that SAM is measuring, are actually
products of the perchlorate breaking down and interacting
with other carbon in the system, such as carbon dioxide
and that sort of thing.
So although looking confusing, it points to that the
instrument is working fantastically, and that even
traces of carbon are being picked up by the perchlorate.
And it spells good news.
We did not expect, on measuring sand, to actually
find organic matter, because it's probably the worst
environment on the planet to expect anything organic to
survive, just because of the high radiation environment.
All the things that are going on.
There's a listing of why you wouldn't expect organics to be
found in the sand.
So one other aspect of this mission that I particularly
enjoy and I'm proud of NASA for getting this out to the
public is that the public outreach part of it, I think,
has been extremely successful.
It is one of those things.
All the metrics that we have for tracking public interest
and accessing web pages and that sort of thing are off the
charts as far as Curiosity has gone.
And I think this is great.
It gets the next generation really interested in science
and technology.
So we landed over here.
We're headed in this direction.
We're actually near the edge of what we're calling
Yellowknife Bay.
Here's the image of it.
We actually are just finished parking here, doing a 360
panorama, basically getting a very good feel of the area and
picking what is going to be the first rock that we're
going to drill and feed those in the analytical lab.
And one of the real interesting parts is seeing
this layering stuff, these flat plates, that we're
calling shaler.
Looks extremely interesting.
And we're trying to figure out if there's a reasonable way to
drill that material and get samples into
our analytical lab.
And so we're going to be doing that for the next month or so,
depending upon how interesting it is.
And then after that, then we're going to head off to the
base of Mount Sharp and ahead toward here for the rest of
the expedition, which will be happening in less than a year.
And with that, any questions I'm happy to answer.

AUDIENCE: Was Mount Sharp formed by the impact which
created the crater?
And why would it have layers if it's an impact?
So excellent question, because most craters that you see a
central peak in, the peak is formed by the
rebound of the impact.
This is not the case.
It is a little bit of a mystery how you got a mound
that size in the crater.
So one the clues that it's not a rebound mound is that Mount
Sharp is actually higher than the rim of the crater.

The favorite running theory is, crater was formed.
It was completely buried.
And then later on, it was exhumed, except for the
central mound stayed there.
So it was kind of exhumed in a washing machine mode, where
wind scoured out the moat around the mountain.
And so what we're seeing, the layering in Mount Sharp is, in
fact, layering left over that was crater wide.
Seems fantastic.
But we're dealing with three billion years of history.
It's not too unusual.
The Grand Canyon is about 1.8 miles deep.
And that has two billion years of history of
the American continent.
So we're hoping that Mount Sharp, with its layering, will
have a similar record.
AUDIENCE: My question's about the 2020 rover that you're
sending up.
So you said that you have, so to speak, a geochemist and a
geologist on Mars.
What's the plan for that rover?
What's going to be its main goal?
If I remember right, it has a really, really long mission
time compared to the previous ones.
How long is that?
The Mars Exploration rovers had a 90 day design lifetime.
And one lasted seven a half years.
And Opportunity is still going.
And it's about to hit nine years in January.
Curiosity has a two year design life time, one Mars
year actually.
So the expectation is 24 times 2 years is quite a long time
for that rover to be running.
We think that the 2020 rover will have a similar lifetime.
But we have to weigh the potential of using solar
panels versus radio isotope thermal electric generators.
And so that is a big variable in terms of what the expected
lifetime would be.
Because solar panels will dust up, wear out, and at some
point in time, you get unlucky where you don't have enough
energy to continue.

We are forming a science definition team to tell us
what the actual objectives of the mission will be.
But it's certainly along the lines of not only looking for
a place that could have supported life, but also
looking for evidence of what may have been there, what may
preserve evidence of life.
So we fully expect that it should have some organic
AUDIENCE: I was a particle physicist before I joined
Google, so I'm interested in the radiation levels.
We've seen two or three spikes on the way to Mars.
And do we know the reason?
And what is the average and the spike radiation level on
the surface of Mars?

MICHAEL A. MEYER: I don't know the numbers in terms of
Sieverts and that sort of thing.
The cause of the spikes are basically solar particle
events, whether or not they're coronal mass ejections or
SEPs, whatever.
AUDIENCE: Have you compared the [INAUDIBLE] radiation with
the level of radiation on Earth?
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So essentially, a rule of thumb--
and the important part is in the details.
But the rule of thumb is that in open space it's about twice
what you see on space station.
Because space station is protected by
the Van Allen belt.
It turns out that on the surface of Mars is about half
of what you see in space.
So it's similar to what you may see in a space station.
And the reason for that is is just that you have a planet on
one side of you shielding you from half the
galactic cosmic rays.
It's a very simple thing.
The atmosphere doesn't seem to do much for you.
Although I didn't show it, but we've seen a correlation
between the pressure wave that comes across and actually the
amount of radiation hitting the surface.
So there is some effect.
And it's measurable, but it's a minor effect.

AUDIENCE: So there was some concern about contamination of
the drill bit because it got remounted.
I read an article about that.
So how does that affect the announcement on Monday?
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So the drill bit contamination was a little
bit of an issue, because when they made it, they quenched it
in oil, which is not a real good idea if you're going to
measure organics.
So they went through a real process to clean that up.
And so we think that whatever contamination there is left is
pretty minor.
There's also some concern about the Teflon bushings that
hold the drill bit during percussive drilling.
But they can characterize that.
That's not a problem.
The announcement of what information we got from SAM
has nothing to do with the drill bit, because we haven't
used the drill yet.
So all of that is from the scoop itself.
And that's part of the reason why the amount of carbon that
ends up reacting with the perchlorate and showing up in
the gas chromatograph, we think is carbon actually
coming from something else, like carbonate coming off or
any other carbon in the system.
But not low molecular weight carbon that may actually be in
the soil or as a contaminant.
So we don't think it's coming from Earth itself, except for
maybe some slight derivatization product that
we're carrying with us.
So yeah, the drill is something to come, and we hope
to start doing that before the Christmas holidays.

AUDIENCE: First, thanks for coming.
This is just totally a delight to me.
What was the inspiration and motivation for
the audacious skyhook?
And just for my morbid curiosity, what was the escape
strategy once the Curiosity had touched down?

MICHAEL A. MEYER: So interestingly enough, there
are components to this whole system that
have been used before.
So for instance, the bridle and the idea of lowering your
payload down beneath retrorockets, they actually
did that on the Mars Exploration rovers, where they
had retrorockets attached underneath the parachute.
And they lowered the air bag system before they actually
inflated the air bags and dropped it.
So interestingly enough, they had a bridle concept that
they'd already tested on Mars.
So it wasn't totally insane to go that pathway.
It turns out what was the driving factor is, every
single time they came up with a design where the spacecraft
would land with the rockets underneath them, they ended up
with a huge problem with rocket plume interaction with
the surface.
It gets extremely unstable.
And any slight variations cause a major perturbation
And the way it has been handled in the past is you
actually turn off the rockets before you touch down, which
has its own risk.
So because of that, then you need two things.
You need legs to land on, because you need some kind of
shock system.
And then also, once you land, you have to get your rover
from the platform down to the surface.
So now you need ramps and that sort of thing.
And they kept running into just this being on the surface
and getting the rover down was going to add several hundred
kilograms, in terms of mass.

And somebody came up with, hey, well, if we just lower
the rover and have it land on the wheels, we don't have to
add legs and we don't have to add a ramp.
And so that was the real motivator in saving several
hundred kilograms in terms of what the landed payload is
that you could put on the surface.
The exit strategy for the retrorockets was, as the
system comes down, it knows how much thrust it's using to
keep a steady descent toward the ground.
At some point in time, when the Rover touches the surface,
all of a sudden your motion sensor and the amount of
thrust that you're using, you go, hey, I weigh half as much
as I used to a second ago.
And so as soon as that's recognized, the bridle's cut,
the retrorockets go full throttle.
And it just flies off.
And the only real control of it after that time is, in
fact, just fly away.
All the brains are on the rover.

AUDIENCE: If I remember correctly, [INAUDIBLE]
some trouble moving and turning the rover position and
things like that.
How far do we go?
I think this is what I remember correctly.
I was just curious if you guys have made any improvements
with Odyssey.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: Well the Curiosity--
AUDIENCE: I'm sorry.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So one of the great things about having
the Mars Exploration rovers last for an extended period
time is that you got to upgrade the software.
You got to do more experiments in terms of mobility.
And so one of things that it's instituted on this mission
that's interesting is what's called visual odometry.
So the system itself can look around and recognize its
environment and go, well, I must have traveled 10 meters.
And so that's an improvement in terms of knowing exactly
how far it went and that sort of thing.
They've also instituted a little more cautious approach
to understanding wheel slip.
And that was actually one of the real problems that got
Spirit into trouble was when it didn't go anywhere and kept
on trying to go somewhere, it really dug itself into the
small crater that it was in.
How does the recent news of the water ice on Mercury
affect the future of Mars missions?

MICHAEL A. MEYER: Actually in a weird way, it might add a
little greater understanding, in terms of the subtleties of
exploring another planet and what does it really tell you.
It wasn't the water on Mercury that-- well,
that's a big surprise.
And that's really interesting.
But also the announcement that there's organics associated
with the ice that is particularly interesting.
And what that does is help highlight the fact that one of
the big mysteries on Mars is that we didn't find organics
yet, really, on the surface.
Because there should be organics just from raining
down from space, from chondritic chondrites, and
that sort of thing.
So what that does is highlights that there should
be organics on the surface of Mars.
And our thought is, if it weren't for such a high
radiation environment on the surface.
The ice on Mercury is shadowed by a crater.
And maybe the organics themselves are shadowed by a
crater, too.
So that's why they're still there and haven't been
vaporized away.

AUDIENCE: So in the road map that you showed, you said that
the robotic mission's until 2020.
How does it affect potential human exploration, maybe with
Google glasses or future technologies, in terms of
landing sites or whatnot?
One of the things that we'd like to do as an agency is
better coordinate our future exploration, and having the
science and human exploration work cooperatively toward,
hopefully, for Mars, actually.
And so the president had suggested that we be--
say that we should be getting to Mars in the 2030's.
And by exploring a planet this way robotically as we set
things up and do some measurements that help reduce
the risk for humans to go.
That as you go further along that line, I think we'll
improve the capabilities and potential for
humans to go to Mars.
The radiation experiment is a great example of we are doing
something that will be extremely useful for human
exploration when they go to the red planet.
I think I answered your question.

AUDIENCE: Can Curiosity's robot arm function on Earth,
or is it designed specifically for a low gravity environment/
MICHAEL A. MEYER: So Curiosity's arm, can it
function on Earth?
Yeah, I think it can.

But in a low gravity environment, and also the wide
temperatures that we see on Mars, you can test things out
here on Earth.
But you're not going to know exactly how it behaves until
you get there and then do some test outs and wavepoints and
mark how everything is operating.
You might have noticed on some of the images, there's some
targets that look like Nuclear Regulatory Commission symbols.
And what those are are actually targets.
So that when you move the arm around, you can find out where
exactly it goes with the set commands.
And you can then get more used to how the arm behaves and
improve the efficiency of when you're doing sampling and that
sort of thing.

I suspect they couldn't actually move the arm full
length with the full instrumentation on the end of
it in Earth gravity.

AUDIENCE: In general, not so much related to NASA.
What do you think about the Mars 1 project that plans to
send humans to Mars sometimes around 2024?

This is one of these things where a government agency, by
its very nature, has to be conservative.
And what we can do in the commercial sector is great.
And they have a very
interesting and clever engineers.
And I think they have a reasonable shot.
AUDIENCE: Do you think it's realistic?
And what about the fact that it's a one way trip
for humans to Mars?

MICHAEL A. MEYER: Well, there's a list of people I'd
want to send on that trip.

And interestingly enough, I know a fair number of people
who would volunteer for that.
So NASA is not in the business of creating heroes, and so
would never consider a mission that was only one way.
But in the commercial sector, you can do that.
And it certainly makes it a lot easier, except for the
person that goes.

AUDIENCE: Could you walk us through a typical day in the
life of a rover, how many experiments it can run in any
given day, how far it can travel, those kinds of things?
MICHAEL A. MEYER: Actually that's one of the real
learning experiences of being on the mission, is how
painfully slow everything is.
So one, I think everybody here realizes that you can't
joystick the rover.
You can't drive it like this.
You have a time variance anywhere from 8 to 40 minutes,
depending upon where Earth and Mars are in
reference to each other.
So the way a day works is a orbiter pass goes by in the
morning, quotes "in the morning." And when we get that
data back is when the day starts.
So we now have a data dump of what the rover did the
previous day.
The team meets.
They look at the data, see what happened.
Did the rover do what it was supposed to do?
Did the measurements work?
Was there something exciting that the rover just
Well, the rover didn't discover it.
But data it took that got everybody excited.
So then the rest of the time and basically morning and
mid-afternoon is, OK, let's say the rover did what it was
supposed to do.
So now you build your sequences, what sequence of
measurements do you want to do.
Do you want the rover to rove?
Do you need to bump up against a rock and take
a measurement there?
You plan out what is going to happen.
Sequences get built.
And basically, by late day, evening,
they get sent to Mars.
And then they get downloaded on the rover.
And the rover, by now, is ready to start a new day and
it gets its instructions to what to do.
What you can do in any one sol increases with time as you get
more comfortable with how many things can you do at the same
time without breaking something.
Initially, whenever we did an instrument for the first time,
essentially we would just do that instrument.
Make it easy.
Reduce the number of factors that could have caused it to
reset or that sort of thing.
But we've gotten to the point now where, for instance, the
weather and the RAD instrument and the DAN instrument now run
as background routine.
There might be some commanding, because you want
something special from them.
But in general, they're done every day.
It's a routine measurement.
You can go onto a web page and get the Mars weather for the
day type of thing.
So we've adjusted to that.
Running, for instance, SAM, which is probably the most
complicated instrument, that actually has to run overnight.
And so if you're going to do a SAM experiment, that sol,
that's the only thing you're going to do.
Not only because of the length of time it takes to run, but
the other part is it uses up a fair amount of energy.
You have to heat up your piping and that sort of thing.
Heat up the sample because you're
doing evolved gas analysis.
So essentially, if you're doing that, you don't have
enough energy to do much else other than to beam back the
data, that sort of thing.
ChemCam is now gotten comfortable enough that it can
shoot several targets in a day, as opposed to just one.
The Mastcam, it actually has a very interesting feature.
It has so much memory that we figured out the best way to
use it is when you get someplace new, or a different
perspective, go ahead and shoot an entire panorama.
Keep everything on board.
Send back thumbnails of the images that you took.
And then when you go through the thumbnails, you go, oh,
that's really interesting.
Let's look at that.
Then you ask the spacecraft to send back the
full resolution image.
So in general, we are able to do now, probably, a couple
instruments at the same time, except for maybe the ones that
use a fair amount of energy.
Just to put it in perspective, the RTG is
producing about 110 watts.
So that's the amount of power you have in each
hour type of thing.
And so you have to manage it so that you don't reduce the
battery power by more than 40%.
BORIS DEBIC: Let's please--
We'll continue after.
So let's thank now Michael.
And we can gather around.
MICHAEL A. MEYER: Thank you.