Meet One of Mars Rover Curiosity’s Earthbound Twins
Scientists use a Mars-like environment created in Maryland to test key rover equipment.
Temperatures around the instrument plunge to minus 130ºF (-90°C), the air pressure is one percent of Earth's, and the atmosphere it sits in consists largely of carbon dioxide.
But this second SAM—short for Sample Analysis on Mars—resides in suburban Maryland, inside a tightly controlled chamber where it plays a little-known but essential role as a test instrument for the Curiosity mission to Mars. (Watch: How Curiosity took a self-portrait.)
And for a short time last month, this microwave-size "test bed" SAM was out of its deep freeze for repairs and upgrades, offering a rare peak into exactly what it takes to keep a rover and its scientific instruments alive and well on Mars.
Simply put, SAM is the most complex