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Mars: Box to answer the biggest question



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Media CaptionsDelicate operation: ALD goes down to the rover body.

Is it possible? Do you have life on Mars?

Since the Mariner 4 expedition was the first successful visit to the planet Red Planet in July 1965, we have given us all kinds of compelling information about the nearest neighbors of the planet. That's a really important question.

Look at the technologies that can eventually change the game.

This is an analytical laboratory drawer (ALD), a sophisticated 3-in-one box of equipment to investigate rock samples for biological chemical fingerprints.

On Thursday, it was lifted smoothly by the crane and fell into the ExoMars "Rosalind Franklin" rover, a six-wheel buggy across the Oxia plains of Mars in 2021.

A 300kg robot, jointly developed by European and Russian space agencies, will be drilled to two meters below the dusty surface of the earth.

The microbes pulled by this tool are delivered through the door of the ALD and the various mechanisms inside are shredded to prepare a powder that can be dropped into a small cup for analysis.

Forensic examination examines all aspects of sample composition.

All previous rovers had a big question. They essentially asked only if the condition of Mars was favorable to the past and present life. They do not really have the equipment they need to truly detect biomarkers.

Rosalind Franklin will be different. 54 kg ALD is specially designed to find complex organic molecules from the life process.

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NASA / JPL-CALTECH / MSSS

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US probes have confirmed that Mars is definitely habitable.

Thursday's integration was slow and cautious. As you know, ALD was, in many ways, a key component of the Rosalind Franklin mission.

"It's good to see Rover's heart set up," said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

"The Analytical Laboratory Drawer is a key part of the Mars sample test at Rover, which allows us to understand geology and potentially identify the signatures of Mars life, not to find what the British have discovered.

Engineers at Airbus UK now work three shifts to complete the rover.

Although it does not look like an automobile at present, virtually all of the components have now arrived at the Steve Nigi plant.

They sit on the shelf around the edge of the clean room in the bag and wait for their turn in the assembly sequence.

However, there are one or two outstanding items, including the rover's British "eye".

This is a camera system or PanCam. PanCam sits on top of the mast and directs the robot to the survey path.

Chris Draper, Flight Model Operations Manager at Airbus, said, "We have hosted this week's Delivery Review Committee and PanCam should be approaching us within the next few days."

"Every part of the rover is modeled in 3D, and everyone is working with the control drawing. Assuming we all do, we'll know ALD, for example, and it fits perfectly with the rover."

Image copyright
NASA

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Mariner 4 first took a close-up of Mars in 1965.

The Stevenage team is keeping a tight deadline in early August to get Rosalind Franklin Rover out the door.

We have to go to the company's Toulouse facility for a series of tests to ensure a robust design that can cope with the tremors experienced by rockets on Mars.

More conformity tests will follow in France before being shipped to Kazakhstan's renowned Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The lift-off should take place in July / August next year. This date can not be moved: you can only go to Mars if Mars is aligned with Earth, and there is a 26-month interval in the Opportunity window.

Who was Roberts Franklin?

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Getty Images / ESA

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Rosalind Franklin rover is a joint project between Europe and Russia.

In 1952, Rosalind Franklin investigated the atomic arrangement of DNA in King 's College London (KCL) to create analytical images using X – ray crystallography techniques.

One of her team photos, known as Photo 51, provided the insight necessary for Crick and Watson to create the first three-dimensional model of a double-chain polymer.

It was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century science, and the researcher was able to understand how DNA has stored, copied and transmitted the "code of life" of the gene.

Crick, Watson, and KCL associate Maurice Wilkins won the groundbreaking Nobel Prize in 1962.

Franklin's sudden death meant that she could not consider the prize (the Nobel Prize was not awarded posthumously). But many people claim that her contribution has never received the attention it deserves, and that it is not overstretched.

  • BBC – In Our Time: Melvyn Bragg looks back on Rosalind Franklin's life.


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