Pasadena, CA – When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, they brought devices with them called retroreflectors, which are essentially small arrays of mirrors. The plan was for scientists on Earth to aim lasers at them and calculate the time it took for the beams to return. This provided exceptionally precise measurements of the Moon’s orbit and shape, including how it changed slightly based on Earth’s gravitational pull.
Research with these Apollo-era lunar retroreflectors continues to this day, and scientists want to perform similar experiments on Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover – scheduled to land on the Red Planet on February 18th, 2021 – carries the palm-size Laser Retroreflector Array (LaRA).
SuperCam is a rock-vaporizing instrument that will help scientists hunt for Mars fossils.
Pasadena, CA – NASA is sending a new laser-toting robot to Mars. But unlike the lasers of science fiction, this one is used for studying mineralogy and chemistry from up to about 20 feet (7 meters) away. It might help scientists find signs of fossilized microbial life on the Red Planet, too.
One of seven instruments aboard the Mars 2020 rover that launches this summer, SuperCam was built by a team of hundreds and packs what would typically require several sizable pieces of equipment into something no bigger than a cereal box.
Written by Lori Keesey
Greenbelt, MD – An ultrafast laser that fires pulses of light just 100 millionths of a nanosecond in duration could potentially revolutionize the way that NASA technicians manufacture and ultimately assemble instrument components made of dissimilar materials.
A team of optical physicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is experimenting with a femtosecond laser and has already shown that it can effectively weld glass to copper, glass to glass, and drill hair-sized pinholes in different materials.
This is the fifth and final of a series of articles based on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi beginning, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
Clarksville, TN – Many small children are afraid of the dark. “Scare me! Scare me!” usually results in a story in which darkness plays a role. Amazingly, a night light can help avoid extreme fear during the night. A dimmer switch on the night light can be over time lowered until the fear is overcome.
Somehow the idea that something sinister is lurking as soon as the lights go out is a common fear. With the number of terrifying movies and television programs that many children are being allowed to watch these days, it is amazing that many of them can even go to sleep!
As a teacher, I am flabbergasted when the children, ages five to 11, begin to tell me that they have seen Freddy Krueger, scenes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. The nightmares that follow lead one to believe that parental neglect in choosing appropriate entertainment can affect a child throughout life.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – If you were looking for the signatures of life on another world, you would want to take something small and portable with you. That’s the philosophy behind the “Chemical Laptop” being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California: a miniaturized laboratory that analyzes samples for materials associated with life.
“If this instrument were to be sent to space, it would be the most sensitive device of its kind to leave Earth, and the first to be able to look for both amino acids and fatty acids,” said Jessica Creamer, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at JPL.
Written by Stephanie L. Smith
Pasadena, CA – NASA successfully beamed a high-definition video 260 miles from the International Space Station to Earth Thursday using a new laser communications instrument.
Transmission of “Hello, World!” as a video message was the first 175-megabit communication for the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), a technology demonstration that allows NASA to test methods for communication with future spacecraft using higher bandwidth than radio waves.
Written by David Israel and Mark Whalen
Pasadena, CA – A team of about 20 working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, through the lab’s Phaeton early-career-hire program, led the development of the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) investigation, which is preparing for an April 14th launch to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX-3 mission.
The goal? NASA’s first optical communication experiment on the orbital laboratory.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has passed the milestone of 100,000 shots fired by its laser. It uses the laser as one way to check which chemical elements are in rocks and soils.
The 100,000th shot was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called “Ithaca” in late October, at a distance of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the laser and telescope on rover’s mast.
Written by Guy Webster and D.C. Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s rover Curiosity touched a Martian rock with its robotic arm for the first time on September 22nd, assessing what chemical elements are in the rock called “Jake Matijevic.”
After a short drive the preceding day to get within arm’s reach of the football-size rock, Curiosity put its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument in contact with the rock during the rover’s 46th Martian day, or sol.
Written by Guy Webster and D.C. Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called “Coronation.”
The mission’s Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.
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