The Los Alamos Engineering Council held a dinner meeting Thursday at Fuller Lodge. The Council is an umbrella group for a number of engineering and technical societies, which together promote common technical and social activities, sponsor public talks, offer scholarships, promote engineering and science careers in grades K-12 and empower technical professionals in a variety of ways.
At the dinner, the Engineering Council presented its Community Service Award to Beverly Aiken who founded and organizes the annual Discover E event, an evening of interesting, interactive and fun engineering, science, math and technology demonstrations for K-12 students and their parents or guardians.
The speaker at Thursday’s event was Dr. Roger Wiens. Wiens has been building NASA instruments at Los Alamos National Laboratory since 1997. Most recently, he is the principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument carried aboard the Mars rover Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars for the past 18 months. Wiens is the author of “Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars.”
The ChemCam mobile laboratory uses lasers to analyze rocks and soil on Mars. The team hopes ChemCam will continue to transmit data for seven to nine years, or even longer, Wiens said.
ChemCam has found evidence of flowing water in Mars’ distant past. “The water has a normal pH,” Wiens said. “You could drink it. Mars was a much more habitable place 3.8-4.4 billion years ago before it lost a lot of its atmosphere.”
The one ton rover is making its way toward Mt. Sharp, which rises three miles above the surface of the planet. One potential problem is abrasion of the aluminum wheels by sharp rocks, Wiens said. The team has altered the route to avoid areas where the rocks are most likely to occur.
The next Rover project, which developers are calling SuperCam is planned for 2020. It will carry a green laser as well as a red laser like that aboard Curiosity for great flexibility in chemical and mineral analysis as well as a color imager, Wiens said.