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Rain delays Mars rover tests at Mono Lake

October 6th, 2010 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
Rain delays the Mars rover's Mono Lake excursion. Photo by Greg Reis.

Rain delays the Mars rover's Mono Lake excursion.

On Sunday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA brought a prototype Mars rover to Mono Lake, staging it under tents at the Scenic Area Visitor Center while they prepared it to go down to the lake. The plan was to test the rover’s sampling equipment and procedures in an environment that, while unlike Mars, would provide some Mars-like challenges. In the search for evidence of past life on Mars, scientists think that areas on Mars that had terminal lakes like Mono Lake might have sustained life, and preserved evidence of it.

This isn’t the first time NASA has tested its methods at Mono Lake. In August 1995, NASA used an underwater vehicle to take tufa samples. This week, they plan to core tufa and collect evaporite salt deposits—both places that could trap bacteria and bacteria fossils.

The 1998 rover is built with off-the-shelf parts and is a useful testing platform here on Earth. The rovers that go to Mars are designed specifically for that purpose. Photo by Greg Reis.

The 1998 rover is built with heavy off-the-shelf parts and is a useful testing platform here on Earth. The rovers that go to Mars are lightweight and designed specifically for that purpose.

The samples are housed in the container on top of the solar panel. When assembled, this container attaches to the underside of the vehicle. Photo by Greg Reis.

The samples are housed in the container on top of the solar panel. It is anticipated that this container would be attached to the underside of a flight rover vehicle solar panel.

Unfortunately, light rain canceled Sunday’s outing, and Monday and Tuesday were also rainy days. Instead, they brought the rover over to the Lee Vining High School where elementary and high school students got to see them coring tufa samples inside.

The drill (on top of the far end of the rover) is designed to be lightweight, yet strong enough to drill through basalt. Photo by Greg Reis.

The drill (on top of the far end of the rover) is designed to be lightweight, yet strong enough to drill through basalt.

Samples are placed in this container, which would be picked up by a second rover that would be capable of blasting off the surface and bringing them back to Earth. Scientists are still developing a way to seal the samples for the trip back. Photo by Greg Reis.

Samples are placed in this container, the inner canister of which would be picked up by a second rover in a subsequent mission that would carry the canister to a Mars ascent vehicle capable of blasting off the surface on the first step of them returning to Earth. Scientists are still developing a way to seal the samples for the trip back.

Sample containers are disinfected and cleaned to avoid contamination. Photo by Greg Reis.

Sample containers are disinfected and cleaned to avoid contamination.

Today’s forecast only has a 60% chance of precipitation, but it will be colder with the snow level at 7,200 feet. Weather permitting, the Mars rover will be able to ply the shores of Mono Lake this week, before it returns to its indoor sand box at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Click here for an image of the day and updates.

The reddish sand in the wheels is from JPL's indoor sand box--actually crushed garnet which minimizes dust--where the rover is tested. There is also an outdoor terrain park where final testing is done. Photos by Greg Reis.

The reddish sand in the wheels is from JPL's indoor sand box---actually crushed garnet which minimizes dust---where the rover is tested. There is also an outdoor "Marsyard" where final testing is done. Photos by Greg Reis.


2 Responses to “Rain delays Mars rover tests at Mono Lake”

  1. avatar Ron Headlee Says:

    Amazing machines. The original two landers Opportunity and Spirit had a life expectancy of approximately 14 days, They are both still alive with one stuck in a sand trap and the other crippled. Truely amazing!

  2. avatar Arya, Communications Director Says:

    Here’s another article with more cool information on the test mission. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-wet-run-for-a-dry-planet