NASA’s Mars 2020, the long-awaited mission to be launched today, June 30, will look for signs of past microbial life, cache rock, and soil samples, and prepare for future human exploration. The space agency will also take the opportunity to test future technologies. It will carry the first samples of spacesuit material ever sent to the Red Planet.
Advanced spacesuit designer Amy Ross of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said the space agency would send five small pieces of spacesuit material, including a piece of helmet visor, aboard the Perseverance Mars rover. While the rover explores Jezero Crater and collects soil/rock samples, the pieces of spacesuit material will be studied by an instrument aboard Perseverance called SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals).
The materials are embedded alongside a fragment of a Martian meteorite in SHERLOC’s calibration target.
According to Ross, the materials include Teflon, Vectran, and a composition called ortho-fabric; that’s three materials in one, including Nomex, a flame-resistant material found in firefighter outfits; Gore-Tex, which is waterproof but breathable; and Kevlar, which has been used in bulletproof vests.
NASA is already using Teflon and Vectran material for spacesuits, but it is not known if they are useful on the Red Planet. Furthermore, the rover will also carry a piece of polycarbonate, which is used for helmet bubbles and visors because it helps reduce ultraviolet light.
When on Mars, the SHERLOC instrument will primarily study how long the materials can serve before they begin to disintegrate in the local environment, which is influenced by the surrounding radiation. NASA has already carried out tests on these materials in laboratories. These base-level readings they got on Earth will then be compared to readings on Mars.
Selected materials are to be used within the outer layers of the future Mars Spacesuit since these will be exposed to the most radiation. The materials of the suits are able to protect future astronauts from the hostile Martian environment, including from intense sunlight, which passes through the planet’s thin atmosphere.