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Materion is back on Mars

CuriosityNASA's spacecraft Curiosity has successfully landed on Mars after its journey of 352 million miles (567 million kilometers) from Earth that began November 26, 2011.

Two Materion business units supplied material for the Mars rover.  Materion's Barr Precision Optics & Thin Film Coatings supplied precision optical filters that are essential to Curiosity’s analytical capabilities. Materion Brush Beryllium & Composites contributed pure beryllium to a NASA subcontractor who made reflectors for the Curiosity.  The spacecraft’s Science Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which reports have dubbed a compact on-board chemistry lab, are equipped throughout with Materion optical filters.

Curiosity, which will be controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), has a full suite of sophisticated tools for exploring Mars. They include 17 cameras, a laser that can survey the composition of rocks from a distance and instruments that can analyze samples from soil or rocks. The aim of its work is "to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms," NASA said.

SAM is the heart of Curiosity; at 83 pounds (38 kilograms), it makes up about half of the rover's science payload and actually a suite of three separate instruments. These include a mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph and a laser spectrometer. These instruments will search for carbon-containing compounds, the building blocks of life as we know it, as well as look for other elements associated with life on Earth, such as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

The rover's robotic arm will drop samples into SAM which is located in Curiosity's main body, via an inlet on the rover's exterior. Some of these samples will come from the interior of rocks, powder bored out by a drill situated at the end of the arm. None of Curiosity's predecessors were able to get deep into Martian rocks, so scientists are excited about the new drill capabilities.

Materion materials have had a front seat in the exploration of space since the early days of NASA, when beryllium heat shields protected Mercury spacecraft and their astronauts. Earlier in this decade, Materion  AlBeMet® aluminum beryllium matrix materials outfitted NASA's highly successful Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.  Looking to the future, Materion optical grade beryllium will provide the primary mirror surface in the James Webb Space Telescope project expected to launch in 2018.

Photograph Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech