BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Two of the eight instruments selected to go on a Mars
rover have Indiana University Bloomington geologists behind them, NASA
announced yesterday.

One of the devices will provide scientists with a closer look at Mars
— literally. The other will tell us, for the first time, what Mars is
actually made of.

The rover mission is named Mars Science Laboratory and currently is slated
for Earth launch in 2009, Mars arrival in 2010. The mission is part of
NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, which will “deliver a mobile laboratory
to the surface of Mars to explore a local region as a potential habitat
for past or present life,” according to NASA’s press release.

Despite decades of study, scientists still don’t know what rocks make up
Mars’ surface, let alone the strata underneath. Scientists know roughly
what elements exist on Mars but not how they’re organized in minerals and
rocks. To begin addressing that deficiency, IUB geologist David Bish is
working with colleagues from Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA’s Ames
Research Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a
miniature “x-ray diffractometer” that can parse the Martian surface.
Typical x-ray diffractometers are the size of large refrigerators — way
too big for NASA’s diminutive rovers. So far, the team has gotten the
device down to toaster-size, which is, remarkably, still too big.

“We’ve got to get the diffractometer down to the size of a Coke can,” said
Bish, a recent Los Alamos emigre who holds the Haydn Murray Chair in
applied clay mineralogy. “I think we can do it in time to get the device
on a 2009 mission.”

IUB sedimentologist Juergen Schieber’s contribution to Mars Science Lab
will be a wide-angle microscopic camera for imaging rocks, soil, frost and
ice at resolutions never before achieved. Schieber will be working with
Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems on the project.

Thanks to NASA, happenstance and renewed interest in Mars by the U.S.
government, the IU Bloomington campus has enjoyed a notable increase in
Mars research. For more information about Mars research at IUB, see:

“Big Red Planet,” IU Alumni magazine

“Life or Something Like It,” Research & Creative Activity magazine (an
IU publication)

To speak with Bish or Schieber, please contact David Bricker at
812-856-9035 or To speak with a NASA representative,
please contact Donald Savage at 202-358-1727 or