There’s more to Canadian space technology than our much-vaunted Canadarm, and proof of that is rocketing toward Mars right now as part of a new robotic rover called “Curiosity.”
Canada’s contribution is one of 10 special instruments that the rover will use to conduct experiments on the Red Planet, underlining this country’s continuing and noteworthy role in exploring space — “the final frontier.”
The gizmo in question detects chemical elements in soil and rock by firing tiny blasts of radiation at Martian samples. A sensor collects results that are beamed to scientists back on Earth. Its findings may shed fresh and valuable light on the planet’s past ability to sustain life. In fact a less-sophisticated version, aboard an earlier Mars rover, found that water had played a major role in the planet’s geology.
Called an APXS, or Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, the latest device is the work of a design team headed by physicist Ralf Gellert at the University of Guelph. It was built by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. — the same firm that was almost bought by Alliant Techsystems, a giant U.S. company, a few years ago. The success of this country’s APXS work is further evidence of Ottawa’s wisdom in blocking that takeover.
A rocket carrying NASA’s new mobile robotic laboratory, including the APXS system, lifted off in November. The rover’s Mars landing is scheduled for Aug. 6 in the Gale crater, an area deemed most likely to have contained water at some point. “Curiosity” is about the size of a small car, making it twice as long and five times as heavy as earlier Mars explorers. According to the Canadian Space Agency, it’s expected to have an operating lifespan of one Mars year (that’s 687 days to us Earthlings).
The U.S. rover program costs about $2.5 billion, with Canada’s APXS contribution amounting to about $17.8 million, funded by the space agency. That’s a worthwhile investment. True, the project doesn’t come close to what’s envisioned on Star Trek, but it does “explore strange new worlds.” It’s an adventure and it’s fitting that Canadians take part.University of Guelph, the Red Planet, robotic rover, mars rover, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., Ralf Gellert, Canadian space technology <BR/>
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