Martian Lab Made In Manhattan

Curiosity carries one of the most "complicated instruments ever to land on the surface of another planet," according to NASA. The rover's "Sample Analysis at Mars" — which can take dirt and crushed rock from the Red Planet and analyze those samples for indicators of alien life — was partly built in the Big Apple by Honeybee Robotics. Flora Lichtman got a tour of the facility.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Speaking of Mars, Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week.

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Speaking of Mars.

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Speaking of Martians.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Well, I said it because you have a great Mars-related video.

LICHTMAN: It is on-topic this week, yes. We wondered sort of what it was like for the people who built Curiosity, and it turns out that a lab down the street, on 34th Street, is responsible for a little piece of Curiosity. We heard about it before, the Sample Analysis at Mars system, that's the part of Curiosity that takes the rock and the crushed-up dirt and looks at it for organic compounds.

Well, there's a little piece in there, a carousel that's responsible for moving those samples around within the belly of the rover, and these guys at Honeybee Robotics, Lee Carlson and Mike Passaretti, two engineers, were the people who have been working on this for the last eight years. So we went to see them this week to hear sort of what it was like, and the funny thing was, you know, they're still waiting to get the final confirmation back that everything works according to plan. So, you know, Curiosity is down and landed, but there are still a lot of checks going on to make sure that everything survived that eight-and-a-half month journey.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: So that was one thing. And also, it was a real - it was a real education for me to hear what it is like to think about building something that's going to go to Mars. And here's Lee Carlson.

LEE CARLSON: If your car breaks, you bring it to the shop. (Unintelligible) breaks the first week, you've got it, something might go wrong. This cannot happen on Mars.

FLATOW: That's along house call.

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Yeah, not going to happen.

FLATOW: A big tow truck. It's not going to happen.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: So you have to make it to last forever.

LICHTMAN: Right, unlike, I think, most things that we encounter in our daily lives, which are made to break, as far as I - or at least in my hand.

FLATOW: That's exactly right.

LICHTMAN: So this was quite different. So if you want to see this video and see what it's like inside one of these labs where you - you build this stuff...

FLATOW: Yeah. It's our video pick of the week up at our website at sciencefriday.com. If you want to see how you make all of this complicated stuff and how they - what do they have to go through to qualify to be led on?

LICHTMAN: Oh, man. I mean...

FLATOW: There's the clean room.

LICHTMAN: The clean room. That sounded like a real - it sounded kind of like a nightmare. I mean, you have to suit up. They were wearing double sets of gloves, head to toe covered, beard guards, you name it, because, you know, it's got - this is - it has to be sterile. Like, there can't be anything in it.

FLATOW: It's up on our website, and our video pick of the week.

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