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There Will Be Cooking on Mars

Phoenix mission will take and heat samples that could contain life

3 min read

The search for life is the holy grail of Mars exploration. Yet oddly, only one mission was ever sent to Mars equipped with the kind of scientific instrumentation needed to identify signs of life--NASA’s 1976 twin Viking lander mission--and that mission yielded conflicting results. Three of Viking’s onboard biology instruments gave some indications of life, while its gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) did not find any organic molecules even at the parts-per-billion level.

Since Viking, most scientists have thought that the liquid water almost certainly needed to support life could not exist on Mars because of its low atmospheric pressure, which is about one-hundredth that of Earth. Without liquid water, even simple microorganisms couldn’t carry out metabolic functions.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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