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Mars men

Two professors developed equipment to determine whether life could exist on Mars

Published on Apr. 12, 2011 | Print | Share | Recommend ()

The Mars Science Laboratory launches into space November 2011. It’s mission: to detect the planet’s habitability.  Eight scientific instruments will be on the rover, two of which have IU professors behind them.

Geologist Juergen Schieber helped build a microscopic camera that will take close-up pictures of the Martian surface and document some materials examined by MSL’s geochemical and mineralogical experiments. While this instrument examines the surface, the other instrument will help determine the planet’s composition.

In 1989, David Bish, mineralogist, was faced with a one ton, refrigerator–sized instrument. Today, his X-ray diffractometer can be held in his hand and easily fits onto the rover where it will transmit diffraction patterns to scientists on earth. From these patterns, scientists can figure out what kinds of minerals are on Mars.

“Twenty years ago, no one would have thought of sending X-ray diffractometer to another planet,” he says. Despite external doubts, Bish says enthusiasm for the project never died because the team had enough incremental progress to keep them excited.

“We have bright young people coming up with new ideas that often times, more experienced people in the field said, ‘No that’s not possible,’” he says. “The graduate student doesn’t know it’s not possible and does it.” 

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