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Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the Crater
Were rocks that we thought
We might like to drill later

SAM and CheMin were nestled all snug in the rover
While Mastcam and Chemcam, like sentries watched over
Images of outcrops were studied with care
In the hope that organics might be preserved in there
Debate with good spirit, it's not hard to choose
Each rock looks like treasure; there's nothing to lose

Each vein and each clast just seem so inviting,
That each downlinked image is more than exciting

And now that a lava lake's likely a NO,
Let's break out the drill and get ready to go,
On CHIMRA, to CheMin and SAM with the show!

Whatever we look at we'll get some new insight,
Happy Sol-idays to all, and to all a good night!

Author: Pan Conrad

Heidi Manning, a SAM scientist at Concordia College, wrote about her experiences anticipating Curiosity's landing, her role on the SAM team, and the cooperation and teamwork that has made this mission so successful already in an article published in the fall issue of Concordia Magazine.


Author: Andrea Jones

SAM data-collection is underway! Since landing on Mars, SAM has used its Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (QMA) and Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) to analyze the Martian atmosphere. SAM has found evidence that some of Mars's atmosphere has been lost to interplanetary space. Read more about it in this press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: http://1.usa.gov/YATj5H

Image: A lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the TLS. This is demonstration used visible lasers, rather than the infrared lasers in the TLS onboard Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. For more information, see  http://1.usa.gov/RDQ0G6

Author: Andrea Jones

We will hold a Google+ Hangout at 2 p.m. EST, August 29 with astrobiologist Pan Conrad - deputy principal investigator with the Sample Analysis at Mars chemistry lab aboard the Curiosity rover.

Her instrument is currently "sniffing" the Martian atmosphere, and will soon start digesting bits of the soil around Curiosity, trying to answer one pressing question: Could Mars support life?

Join us, along with Fraser Cain and Amy Shira Teitel, to learn more about the Mars astrobiology mission.

If you are on Google+, visit us at: https://plus.google.com/104119652854948680692

Author: Pan Conrad

Curiosity has attracted the attention of President Obama! He called JPL director Charles Elachi to congratulate the team as the entry, descent and landing team gathered with him to participate in the televised exchange. The science team gathered in our meeting room and also watched on NASA TV, as President Obama chatted with Dr. Elachi. If you have been following Curiosity at the MSL website: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl. Then you already know that Curiosity has sent us some beautiful images of our field site taken with the Mastcam (PI Michael Malin). You can see these beautiful images and many other images that are already released for viewing at the URL already noted.

The SAM team is participating actively in the science planning. Our technical operations team is also working hard as Curiosity continues its commissioning - its initial checkout before embarking on its two year trek in Gale Crater. So far, so good!

Every day, we walk around grinning because after seven years in preparation, we are really on Mars.

Author: Pan Conrad
Hip Hip Hurray!

Last night Curiosity touched down near the center of its landing ellipse in Gale Crater. It was spectacular to see a picture of the martian surface very soon after landing. Soon another image came from the rover showing our shadow cast by the sun behind us. This indicated that we were rightside up.

We are now in a science discussion meeting discussing the geologic map of the landing ellipse. We are going to be commissioning the rover and instruments for awhile, and while we complete this testing we will do our best to understand Curiosity's immediate environs as best we can from the MRO remote sensing data we already have in hand.

More to come from Curiosity on Mars!

Author: Pan Conrad

Curiosity is almost ready to land on Mars! We will be there in ten days. The entry into the martian atmosphere, the descent through it and the landing on the martian surface are precisely choreographed and the team of people who planned how this will happen talked to the MSL scientists today to walk us through the whole process. There's a lot of cool information about how it all works on the MSL web site:  http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

The SAM team is preparing for our landing and early operations on Mars by going through all of our procedures and double-checking all of SAM's computer instructions called "scripts" to make sure that we are ready to operate SAM on Mars. We also have prepared lots of resource materials for our team of people who will operate SAM so that we can smoothly make our way through the tactical process. Our scientists have done many studies on Earth rocks and gases or on Mars meteorites to help us predict how the materials we find at Gale Crater might behave when SAM is analyzing them.

There's still a lot to do before we pack our bags and go to California next week to join our big MSL team!

Author: Pan Conrad

The SAM testbed is as close a replica of the flight instrument as we could make for use here on Earth. We will run sample experiments, and any new tests, on the testbed before sending them to Curiosity to be run on Mars. Since SAM has to run all the experiments on her own while on Mars, we need to make sure we get them right on the testbed before sending them up!

One of the many tests we do to make sure that flight SAM and and her Earth twin, testbed SAM, work the same way is a thermal vacuum test. To prepare for this, SAM testbed has been undergoing various instrument and electrical tests, along with checkouts of its 60 heaters before beginning thermal vacuum testing, or T-VAC, this week at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. We have a special Mars Chamber which replicates the temperatures and atmospheric conditions we expect to encounter on Mars to make sure that we can survive and operate in the harsh Martian environment. The test will run experiments on the SAM testbed at a chilly -50 C (-58 F) before step heating it back up to +40 C (104 F) with experiments done along the way. The test is expected to take about a week.

Author: Charles Malespin

Last week, the SAM team had the opportunity to test out the health of SAM while she is flying to Mars, tucked into the belly of the rover and a little over a month until landing! At this point in the journey, it takes the radio waves about 20 minutes to travel to Earth, so once SAM is commanded to power up and tell us how she is doing, we have to wait for the response. It is very exciting when the response comes, and SAM give us a special code message to let us know that the power has been turned on and she is alive and well! These special messages are called “housekeeping” messages, and they will be written every time SAM is also doing science experiments. By sending us these special housekeeping letters from Mars, it’s as though SAM is keeping a journal and allowing us to monitor health and performance at the same time we are getting the results of our science experiments. It’s just as important to understand how the instruments are doing as it is to measure things about Mars. This is how we assess the quality of our science data.

It won't be long now until we are measuring things about Mars' atmosphere, soil and rocks from the surface of Mars!

Author: Pan Conrad