Rock Products

APR 2019

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76 • ROCK products • April 2019 LAST CALL NASA's InSight lander set its first science instrument on Mars but engineers here on Earth already saw it happen . Like NASA's Curiosity rover, InSight has a full-scale working model at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif . This sister lander, aptly named ForeSight, lets the team test all operations before they happen on Mars . To practice how InSight placed its instruments, JPL engineers built a Martian rock garden modeled on images from the spacecraft's cameras . The team raked, shoveled and patted down a bed of crushed garnet intended to simulate Mar- tian sand . They call the shaping of this gravel-like material "Marsforming . " A four-in . (10-centimeter) layer of garnet was added to the lab space in order to match the height and slope of the sur- face in front of InSight . Donning augmented-reality headsets allowed the team to project digital terrain models of the land- ing site onto the test bed, checking whether they needed to scoop more gravel into the space or smooth it out . Wood blocks marked the perimeter of the areas where the lander's seismometer and heat flow probe could be placed; precision cameras in the lab were used to measure each fea- ture they intended to replicate . It took about four hours to mimic every detail, down to any pebbles or rocks larger than an inch (2 centimeters) . Larger rocks present various challenges, both to the lander and the instruments on the planet's surface . The team had to make sure the electrical-wire-laden tethers that connect the instruments to the spacecraft won't catch on or abrade against a sharp rock . It's great for the science we want to do," said JPL's Marleen Sund- gaard, who guided the test-bed work . "It's the flat parking lot the landing team promised us . You calculate the probability of rocks in the area and hope the odds are in your favor . " The odds were very much in favor for InSight . "All around us, there are rocks that were ejected from nearby craters . These can be launched miles across the landscape, depending on the impact size," said Nate Williams, a JPL post-doctoral researcher working with the mission . "Thankfully, there just aren't a lot of rocks right in front of us . " About 70 ft . (21 meters) from the lander lies a field of small boulders that would have made Marsforming harder, Wil- liams said . He lent his geologist's eye to the work, selecting rock samples for the test bed that matched the size, shape and locations of those near InSight . The InSight mission is designed to solve mysteries about the interior of Mars, including its structure and how it formed, which could also shape scientists' understanding of how Earth formed . Source: NASA InSight Engineers Made a Martian Rock Garden By Mark S. Kuhar

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