Mars Simulation Measurements (MSM): Survivability of Organic Molecules Adsorbed on or Occluded in Minerals under Ionizing Radiation

Grant #: NNX10AT27G
Senior Scientist: Gozen Ertem

This proposal requests funds to determine the protective role of minerals on adsorbed organic molecules against radiation effect under conditions that simulate Mars environments. Organic material could have been delivered to Mars from space via meteorites, comets and small interplanetary dust particles. Endogenous formation of organic material may also be considered as a possibility. The purpose is to measure, and compare the survivability rates of a wide variety of organic compounds against radiation effects when they are adsorbed on minerals that are identified on Mars. Experiments will be run in the Mars Simulation Chamber at Tufts University, under controlled temperature, pressure and gas composition. Analysis of organics will be performed with High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS), and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Information obtained through these simulated laboratory experiments will be utilized to create a database: As the exploration for the presence of extinct or extant life on Mars is the primary purpose of future missions to this planet, the database thus created will play a central role not only to establish the target sites of the missions to Mars but also nature of the organics to search for. This is a low-cost proposal, since most of the chemicals and minerals required to carry out the measurements are already in our collection, and it directly addresses Strategic Goal 3 (Develop a balanced overall program of science, exploration, and aeronautics consistent with the redirection of the human space flight program to focus on exploration), and Sub-goal 3C (Advance scientific knowledge of the origin and the history of the solar system, the potential for life elsewhere, and the hazards and resources present as humans explore space) of NASA's 2006 Strategic Plan.