The maple leaf returns to Mars

Canadian science instrument part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission

Longueuil, Quebec, August 6, 2012 — NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) touched down on the Red Planet today at 1:32 a.m. EDT, marking the second time a Canadian science instrument lands on Mars. The mission’s rover, dubbed Curiosity, carries an instrument roughly the size and shape of a Rubik’s cube provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Known as the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), the device will probe the chemistry of rocks and soils on Mars to help determine if the planet ever was, or could still be today, an environment able to support microbial life.

“In 2008, Canadians celebrated as NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission marked the first time we, as a country, landed Canadian technology on the surface of another planet,” said Steve MacLean, President of the CSA. “Mars Science Lab is another first for Canada: the first time wereach out and “touch” Mars, since APXS will investigate the planet’s surface.”
The size of a small car, Curiosity is a mobile science lab equipped with the largest, most advanced suite of science instruments ever to land on Mars. Curiosity will analyze samples on site to determine whether Mars was ever a habitable planet, characterize the climate and geology of Mars, and pave the way for human exploration. APXS is one of 10 science instruments on Curiosity. It will determine the chemical composition of Martian rocks and soil samples to establish their geological history, identify possible alterations by water and perform sample triage for the on-board laboratory instruments. It will be used regularly throughout the mission, which is planned to last one full Martian year (687 Earth days).

An improved version of the instruments on Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, this latest version of APXS was developed specifically for MSL under the scientific leadership of Dr. Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph, Principal Investigator for APXS. Dr. Gellert also heads the APXS science team, which is composed of members from the University of Guelph, the University of New Brunswick, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (a division of Caltech), the University of California, San Diego, Cornell University, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Australian National University. With funding from the CSA, scientists from Brock University, the University of Western Ontario and the CSA are also participating in the mission as NASA-selected Participating Scientists.

The CSA is investing $17.8 million in the design, construction, primary operations and scientific support of APXS. The CSA managed the development and construction of the instrument with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) as the prime contractor for APXS. The University of Guelph provided the scientific direction for the design and engineering support during the development, calibrated the APXS instrument and will lead the science operations for the instrument. Components of APXS were tested in Brampton, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and Guelph.

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