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The Mars rover “Curiosity” has been working hard on the Red Planet, analyzing rocks, soil and atmosphere for signs of life for over a year. Rath, a manufacturer of high-temperature ceramic insulation for thermal processing and analytical equipment, has been there for every mile. The company provides insulation for the instruments, including a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph.
Curiosity’s mission is to search for evidence that life could have existed on Mars. The rover is a six-wheeled robot packed with instruments for thermal processing and evaluation of Martian samples for elements and the elemental building blocks of life. It has been exploring the Gale Crater on Mars, which was thought to have once hosted flowing water, as well as gathering data to determine if the environment was once habitable. Gale is a 95.7-mile-diameter impact crater with a 3.1-mile-tall mountain of sediment in its center. The crater stack is almost three times taller than the Grand Canyon is deep.
Data from orbiting spacecraft indicates that the crater stack is comprised of a diverse mix of rocks and minerals, with clay minerals near the bottom. The target area for Curiosity has been part of an alluvial fan, a formation of debris left by a river that once flowed into the crater. Since clay minerals form in the presence of water, the area is a good place for Curiosity to look for remnants of organics. After one year of exploration, Curiosity has proven that Mars had favorable conditions for microbial life billions of years ago.
Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars group of laboratory instruments includes a mass spectrometer, tunable laser spectrometer and gas chromatograph. Rath provides precision machined high-temperature ceramic insulation components used in thermal processing analytical equipment. This equipment is also detailing the past Martian atmosphere. Two papers recently released by NASA detail that Mars lost its original atmosphere and exposed clues as to why and how it dissipated.
Curiosity is now on a five-mile, year-long journey toward a layered mound, Mount Sharp. Mount Sharp is a three-mile-tall mound of exposed layers that may hold more clues to Mars’ history. Curiosity’s predecessor, Opportunity, has been roaming the opposite side of Mars for over 10 years. It is hoped that Curiosity will be roaming for as long or longer, and Rath’s insulation will provide an insulated environment to perform precise analysis across the harsh Martian planet for years to come.