Rock pushing and sampling under rocks on Mars

Professional Paper 1081

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Viking Lander 2 acquired samples on Mars from beneath two rocks, where living organisms and organic molecules would be protected from ultraviolet radiation. Selection of rocks to be moved was based on scientific and engineering considerations, including rock size, rock shape, burial depth, and location in a sample field. Rock locations and topography were established using the computerized interactive video-stereophotogrammetric system and plotted on vertical profiles and in plan view. Sampler commands were developed and tested on Earth using a full-size lander and surface mock-up. The use of power by the sampler motor correlates with rock movements, which were by plowing, skidding, and rolling. Provenance of the samples was determined by measurements and interpretation of pictures and positions of the sampler arm. Analytical results demonstrate that the samples were, in fact, from beneath the rocks. Results from the Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer of the Molecular Analysis experiment and the Gas Exchange instrument of the Biology experiment indicate that more adsorbed(?) water occurs in samples under rocks than in samples exposed to the sun. This is consistent with terrestrial arid environments, where more moisture occurs in near-surface soil un- der rocks than in surrounding soil because the net heat flow is toward the soil beneath the rock and the rock cap inhibits evaporation. Inorganic analyses show that samples of soil from under the rocks have significantly less iron than soil exposed to the sun. The scientific significance of analyses of samples under the rocks is only partly evaluated, but some facts are clear. Detectable quantities of martian organic molecules were not found in the sample from under a rock by the Molecular Analysis experiment. The Biology experiments did not find definitive evidence for Earth-like living organisms in their sample. Significant amounts of adsorbed water may be present in the martian regolith. The response of the soil from under a rock to the aqueous nutrient in the Gas Exchange instrument indicates that adsorbed water and hydrates play an important role in the oxidation potential of the soil. The rock surfaces are strong, because they did not scratch, chip or spall when the sampler pushed them. Fresh surfaces of soil and the undersides of rocks were exposed so that they could be imaged in color. A ledge of soil adhered to one rock that tilted, showing that a crust forms near the surface of Mars. The reason for low amounts of iron in the sampIes from under the rocks is not known at this time.

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USGS Numbered Series
Rock pushing and sampling under rocks on Mars
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Professional Paper
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U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
21 p.