Martian soil is an intriguing subject for various reasons—perhaps a primary reason is whether life resides beneath the Martian soil. Prior missions are indicative of the possibility of life and have teased the public into practically “wanting” to see life, itself. The most recent rover, Curiosity, has found “strong” evidence for past, flowing water (it seems almost indicative—that life may be next?. . .). However, no rover has yet to find any evidence of life—so NASA’s astrobiology investigations continue.
In upcoming missions, NASA scientists propose (a partial list)
- Search for bio-molecules indicative of present life,
- Search for organic molecules,
- Understand ground ice dynamics,
- Assess habitability conditions of (recent & past) life.
Artist’s concept of the Icebreaker drill and sample transfer system, mounted on a Phoenix-derived Mars lander platform.
In one upcoming mission termed Icebreaker, a lander is to drill through the solid ice-like surface near the northern pole (approximately 1 meter). Icebreaker is to survey Martian ice, attempt to understand soil dynamics, and further assess for the presence of Martian life. The predecessor mission, Phoenix, was an astounding success (uncovering physical evidence of ice). Some stumbling blocks of the former mission were the “poor handling” conditions of the Martian soil near the pole. The Martian soil-ice at the north-pole was extremely “sticky” and a majority of the previous experiments (in the Phoenix mission) nearly failed. Similar experiments of the Viking era nearly “failed” due to similar soil conditions, as well.
Because knowledge of Martian soil is limited, sampling of future soils will prove difficult and treacherous as well. To briefly recap on the soil, current working knowledge indicates that Martian soil is extremely tacky (or in common parlance—sticky). The difficulties are multifaceted: (1) salt-like conditions increase the polarity (electro-static like) of the soil, (2) the soil is ferromagnetic—it will adhere to permanent magnetic components in rovers and landers, (3) a lack of organic-like (peat ?) conditions (in certain areas of the Martian surface) produce a “concrete-like” shell, (4) solid water (ice) / dry ice (carbon dioxide solid) mixed with Martian salts produce “dune-like” shifts on the Martian surface, and (5) Martian dust devils deposit copious amounts of soil salts and ferromagnetic materials upon rovers/landers. As one may perceive—surveying, conducting experiments, and eventual human landings/colonization may not be for the faint of heart.
REFERENCES and LINKS
Link from Lunar Planetary Institute–Icebreaker Mission:
NASA blog about Icebreaker Mission