Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite
Sample Analysis at Mars for Curiosity
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will analyze samples of material collected by the rover's arm.
The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite takes up more than half the science payload on board the Mars Science Laboratory rover and features chemical equipment found in many scientific laboratories on Earth. Provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Sample Analysis at Mars searches for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life and explores ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the martian ecosphere.
Actually a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer, Sample Analysis at Mars also looks for and measures the abundances of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life.
The mass spectrometer separates elements and compounds by mass for identification and measurement. The gas chromatograph heats soil and rock samples until they vaporize, and then separates the resulting gases into various components for analysis. The laser spectrometer measures the abundance of various isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in atmospheric gases such as methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. These measurements are accurate to within 10 parts per thousand.
Because these compounds are essential to life as we know it, their relative abundances are an essential piece of information for evaluating whether Mars could have supported life in the past or present.
Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument, Side Panels Off (Annotated)
An instrument suite that will analyze the chemical ingredients in samples of Martian atmosphere, rocks and soil during the mission of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, is shown here during assembly at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., in 2010.
SAM Instrument at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will study chemistry of rocks, soil and air as the mission's rover, Curiosity, investigates Gale Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA