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I've said so before and still think that the growing success of the recently landed Curiosity Rover on Mars has positive ramifications for the President's reelection campaign. NASA has an annual budget (warning, PDF) of less than $18 billion and for that miniscule price tag this government agency runs dozens of enormously important space science projects, many of which provide critical measurements required for an accurate understanding of climate science on Earth. NASA success gets in the face of those squeamish about science as well as those who think government can't do anything, you know, the GOP.

Here is just one of a bunch of really cool ways that the Rover can study Mars, from the Washington Post:

Soon, the rover will test-fire its powerful laser to pulverize a bit of bedrock uncovered by exhaust from Curiosity’s descent engine. A small telescope will then analyze the vaporized material to determine what minerals it contains.

The combined system, known as Chemistry & Camera, or ChemCam, is the first of its kind to be used on Mars. It is designed to make about 14,000 measurements throughout Curiosity’s mission, said lead instrument scientist Roger Wiens, with the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Here is what NASA says it can do:
From 23 feet (7 meters) away, ChemCam will be able to:

    rapidly identify the kind of rock being studied (for example, whether it is volcanic or sedimentary);

    determine the composition of soils and pebbles;

    measure the abundance of all chemical elements, including trace elements and those that might be hazardous to humans;

    recognize ice and minerals with water molecules in their crystal structures;

    measure the depth and composition of weathering rinds on rocks; and,

    provide visual assistance during drilling of rock cores.

The Rover will reach its first study objective in about five weeks, well after both conventions and during the heat of the fall campaign. Exciting discoveries from Curiosity may nevertheless break into a few news cycles and there is nothing about news like that which could possibly help the Romney/Ryan Go Back Team.  

Wander with me into the tall grass for more about this part of the science package and the place the Rover will be studying first.  

First, here is an example of the kind of measurements the ChemCam can do.

Glenelg, the pallindromicly named place (blue dot upper right of image) that NASA is first sending the Rover, is distinguished by the conjunction of three distinct geological formations, including layered bedrock. If and when Curiosity discovers rocks laid down at the bottom of ancient Martian seas, it will be big news.

NASA's scientists are really excited about this mission.

The trek to Glenelg will send the rover 1,300 feet (400 meters) east-southeast of its landing site. One of the three types of terrain intersecting at Glenelg is layered bedrock, which is attractive as the first drilling target.

"We're about ready to load our new destination into our GPS and head out onto the open road," Grotzinger said. "Our challenge is there is no GPS on Mars, so we have a roomful of rover-driver engineers providing our turn-by-turn navigation for us."

Prior to the rover's trip to Glenelg, the team in charge of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, is planning to give their mast-mounted, rock-zapping laser and telescope combination a thorough checkout. On Saturday night, Aug. 18, ChemCam is expected to "zap" its first rock in the name of planetary science. It will be the first time such a powerful laser has been used on the surface of another world.

"Rock N165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches wide. It's about 10 feet away," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "We are going to hit it with 14 millijoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds. It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too."

And they plan to do that 14,000 times, here and there around the crater and Mount Sharp. Cool indeed.

There could be mind blowing news from Mars, soon. Stay tuned.

Originally posted to LeftOfYou on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 11:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by Astro Kos, SciTech, and Kossacks on Mars.

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