Some great science to look forward to on Mars in 2009, if the massive thing successfully lands!
NASA is planning a rover with three times the mass (600 kilograms) and twice the number of instruments (10) as those currently on Mars, the long-lived Spirit and Opportunity. These use remote sensing and instruments that can scratch away surfaces to analyse the geology of the Red Planet. But MSL will contain two “laboratories” in which samples can be collected, crushed and analysed.
One is a 30-kilogram package of tools called the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) that includes an updated version of an instrument first flown on the Viking mission. Called a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, it segregates molecules according to their mass, then identifies them. It will be able to search for the patterns of carbon isotopes that on Earth tend to be produced by life.