NASA Selects ASU-Directed SCIM Proposal as One of Four Finalists for Mars Scout Mission
NASA has selected a proposal for a mission that would collect samples
of martian atmospheric dust as one of four finalists for the first Mars Scout
mission (see attached release). The proposal, directed by Arizona State
University geologist and cosmochemist Laurie Leshin, and in major
partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin,
will receive a $500,000 grant to complete its refinement prior to the
agency’s final selection process, which will take place next
summer. The Mars Scout Program plans to mount at least one
(and perhaps several) Scout missions to Mars beginning in 2007, with
budgets of up to $325 million per mission.
Leshin’s proposal is called "Sample Collection for
Investigation of Mars” (SCIM), and involves a mission that would
do a ”swoop and scoop” into the dusty Martian
atmosphere. The proposed mission would perform the first return of a
Martian sample at less cost, lower risk and in a shorter time frame than
the more complicated missions that will eventually be launched to collect
samples from the planet's surface. For full details on the mission
proposal, including images and animations, see <
In brief, the proposal calls for a spacecraft to make a "high
pass" of Mars, to an altitude ~23 miles above the surface, to collect
dust and gas samples from the Martian atmosphere for about one minute
at about 14,000miles per hour, before swinging back and beginning the
return to earth. On the spacecraft, a light-weight and porous high-tech
substance called "aerogel" would cushion, trap and preserve
dust particles. The aerogel collection device is similar that currently flying
on NASA’s Stardust mission to collect dust streaming off of a comet.
Leshin projects that the aerogel would capture about 1000 fine dust
particles measuring 10 microns (1/100 of a millimeter) or larger.
"Martian dust is an interesting thing because there is dust all over
the Martian surface," said Leshin. "It's the ubiquitous
layer - it's everywhere, yet we really know very little about it.
It samples virtually the whole planet, yet it is so fine-grained that it is
very hard to study when you're sitting there on the surface.
You really need to bring it back to Earth to characterize it grain by grain.
And each grain is like a little rock from Mars."