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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mars Science Lab to carry contributions from Indiana University scientists

Nov. 23, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Two devices that Indiana University Bloomington geologists helped develop will be part of the science payload on board NASA's Mars Science Lab mission when it launches Saturday morning, Nov. 26, from Cape Canaveral.

The mission will put a mobile laboratory onto the surface of Mars and use it to investigate the area's past and present environments. It is expected to arrive on Mars in August 2012.


NASA Photo

This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface.

The 10-foot-long Curiosity rover will be equipped with 10 science instruments and a robotic arm that can drill into rocks, scoop up soil and deliver samples to analytical instruments. Its mission includes assessing whether the area has offered conditions favorable for life and favorable for preserving evidence about whether life has existed on Mars.

NASA selected proposals for scientific instruments to be carried on the mission through a competitive process in 2004. It later reached agreements with Russia and Spain to carry two additional instruments that those nations have provided. Helping design and develop two of the devices were David Bish, Haydn Murray Chair of Applied Clay Mineralogy, and Juergen Schieber, professor of geological sciences, both in the Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.

Bish is co-investigator for CheMin, short for "Chemistry and Mineralogy," a powder X-ray diffraction instrument that will identify and quantify the minerals present in rocks and soil delivered to it by a sample acquisition and processing system. It will assess the involvement of water in the formation, deposition or alteration of minerals and will be useful in the search for potential mineral bio-signatures, energy sources for life or indicators of past habitable environments.

David Blake of NASA Ames Laboratory is the principal investigator for CheMin, and David Vaniman of Los Alamos National Laboratory is co-principal investigator. Researchers, including Bish, began working on the project around 1989. For more on the CheMin instrument and its operation, visit

Schieber worked on the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a focusable color camera on the turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. The instrument acquires high-definition images with a color quality equivalent to that of consumer digital cameras; camera resolution varies with distance to the object but may reach 7/1000 of an inch under optimal conditions. Such images will facilitate the interpretation of the petrography and mineralogy of samples, attributes that are critical for describing the materials and deciphering the processes that have acted on them.

Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, a geologist who has helped run cameras on several Mars orbiters, is the principal investigator for MAHLI. For more on the device, visit

The launch window for the Mars Science Laboratory opens at 10:02 a.m. EST Saturday and lasts for one hour and 43 minutes. For more information, visit