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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NASA picks two IU devices to go to Mars

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Two of the eight instruments selected to go on a Mars science mission 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.

Photo by: NASA/JPL

This artist's conception shows the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover exploring a canyon plateau.

Print-Quality Photo

The rover mission, Mars Science Laboratory, is currently 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, we still don't have definitive knowledge of the minerals and rocks that make up Mars' surface, let alone the strata underneath. Scientists know roughly what chemical elements exist on Mars, but little of how they're organized into 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 provide mineralogical fingerprints for the Martian surface. Typical x-ray diffractometers are the size of large refrigerators -- way too large 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 soda can," said Bish, a recent Los Alamos émigré who holds the Haydn Murray Chair in Applied Clay Mineralogy. "Mars Science Laboratory funding will allow us to accomplish this goal in time for the 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