Transcripts of “What is SAM?”

[ Music ] Mahaffy: SAM is a suite of instruments that is one of ten investigations on the Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, which is on its way to Mars. I'm the Principal Investigator on SAM, the Sample Analysis at Mars experiment. Eigenbrode: MSL will collect a sample, either drill it or it will scoop up a powdered sample of some sort, and it will drop that into SAM. And then it heats it up really hot and produces a whole bunch of gases that come out of that rock. Mahaffy: SAM has three different instruments glued together by a system that moves sample around and moves gas around and processes the gas. Eigenbrode: The isotopes of those gases will tell us about the processes that formed them. In particular, it helps us identify organic molecules that might be present. And that is a big secret of Mars, where are those organic molecules and where did they come from? So SAM will help us identify those. Conrad: On Earth we have the luxury of putting in sample after sample into each laboratory apparatus. Once you go to another planet, every dot of every electron that you use is measured. So one way in which SAM differs from earthbound instrunemts is that it is very, very sensitive just like instruments that take up a whole benchtop in the laboratory, but it's realitively tiny, it's about the size of a microwave oven. Mars is a puzzle: we don't know whether life ever arose on Mars, we don't know if there is life there now. But what we can measure is what the potential is for habitability on Mars, and we can do this by looking at the complete chemical picture. Mahaffy: Does life emerge generally in planets where the conditions for life are favorable, or might life take its own unique path in different environments and turn out differently? [ Music fades ]