NASA's next rover to Mars will be the best equipped robotic field geologist yet.

Transcript:

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Is Earth unique in the solar system - the only place where life could have taken hold?
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Or could such an environment have existed at some point on Mars -
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where water and key chemical building blocks could have come together
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in a way that could support the smallest, most basic forms of life?
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The Mars Science Laboratory Rover, NASA's new robotic vehicle for exploring Mars -
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is heading to the Red Planet to find the answer.
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So how does a robotic rover try to find answers?
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By copying what its human creators do.
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On Earth, geologists might check out a map,
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drive out to a remote location,
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and hike to a possibly hard-to-reach spot where they can see layers of ancient rocks –
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like in the walls of a dried-up river bed or the sides of a canyon.
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(John Grotzinger)
MSL is an incredible rover because it has an amazing ability to move around,
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and we're going to need that because we're going to have to go into some tough-to-reach places.
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It can travel at least twenty kilometers, probably further
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We're going to be able to land in a safe place and go beyond that
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to where the really rough rocks are, which is where all the good geologic clues are
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that tell us about the early environmental evolution of Mars.
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In the search for evidence of life on Mars, geologists first have to determine if certain conditions were right -
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if the rock record shows evidence of certain minerals and organic molecules -
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the key chemical building blocks on which all life is based.
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So what MSL would be able to do is it would drive up to this outcrop and it has a drill...
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that's about a centimeter in diameter and we would instruct the rover to drill a hole in the rock...
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and then the powder that comes out of that would then travel back into the rover...
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and it would be split and it would go into the two instruments that would analyze the powder...
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one would give us information on mineralogy
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and the other one would give us information if there were any organic molecules in there.
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It's really as close as we can get to putting a field geologist on Mars.
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And like any good geologist, the Mars Science Laboratory Rover carries a full pack of gear for the trip.
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On Earth, geologists use tools like compasses, rock hammers and hand lenses...
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to explore the environment and study the rocks.
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They might even do a simple acid test to see what the rocks are made of.
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The Mars Science Laboratory Rover, carries a whole laboratory with it wherever it goes.
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It's much bigger than any rover sent before -- about the size of a car.
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That means it can carry a lot more advanced instruments.
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We've got a laser, called ChemCam.
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And we're going to be able to look at rocks that are on the walls of outcrops or...
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positions where we can't really get to it.
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And we'll be able to shoot this laser beam and look at the light that's reflected back to us...
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and get some sense of the chemical composition of things that we might not be able to touch.
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All these capabilities will help scientists understand the history of these remote areas.
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One of the questions that people most often ask is whether or not...
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life is unique in the universe and our solar system.
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And the short answer to that is -- we don't really know.
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And the only way we're ever going to figure this out is to leave our own planet...
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and go explore other solar systems as well as planets within our own solar system.
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Could Mars have had an environment capable of supporting life?
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The Mars Science Laboratory Rover is taking all the tools it needs to try and solve this mystery.
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If all goes well, at the end of its journey, the rover will have taken us to places on Mars we could never reach before...
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given us a glimpse back into the history of the planet...
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and maybe even shown us another planet where life could survive.
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