Airdate: Dec 04, 2009
Scientist: Suparna Mukherjee,
Kids' Science Challenge: Mars - Dirty Chamber
To test equipment bound for Mars, JPL scientists head to their "dirty chamber," a low-pressure tank that can handle abrasive Mars-like sand.
SM: “These parts of the spacecraft are going to be living in the soil and dust of Mars, so we have to test all of our hardware with the soil and dirt that we’re going to see on Mars. This chamber is one of the only places we can do that now.”
JM: Usually, engineers prefer a clean environment for spacecraft assembly and testing. But if you’re designing a rover for the dusty Martian surface, you’ll want to run some tests in NASA’s so-called “dirty-chamber.” I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Suparna Mukherjee is a mechanical systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
SM: “So, what we do is we close this giant door, and we pump out all of Earth’s atmosphere. And then, we put back just a little bit of gas to simulate what the atmosphere on Mars is like. This is our first real dirty chamber at the lab. Most of our chambers that we test spacecrafts in or spacecraft elements are very, very clean. Part of the reason is when we’re pumping out all the air, if we have dirt in there, we’ll pump out the dirt too. And when we pump out the dirt, we tend to break pumps. So, we don’t have very many chambers that allow us to do this kind of testing. In 2011 we’re going to be sending another rover to Mars the Mars Science Laboratory and that rover’s going to have a giant robotic arm with a bunch of tools at the end to help us look at the rocks and soil of Mars. So, we’re going to take those tools and put them in this chamber. We’re going to pump down to Mars-like pressures and then test in soils that we think will act like Mars soils and rocks that are similar to the rocks we think we’re going to find on Mars.”
JM: Suparna Mukherjee is a participant in this year’s Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. The first thousand entrants get a free science kit with an actual sample of the Mars soil simulant that NASA engineers use to test the rover. Log on to kidsciencechallenge.com to enter.