NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission plans to build on the discoveries made by previous rovers and landers on the surface of Mars. The rover, based on the previous and proven Curiosity design, will continue the search to determine whether life ever existed on our planetary neighbor. Like previous missions, extreme care is being taken to make sure that the spacecraft does not bring any biological matter from Earth that could contaminate the Red Planet or be mistaken for Martian life.
As part of the effort to reduce and eliminate biological contamination, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Contamination Control and Planetary Protection engineers has tasked Astro Pak’s cleanroom in Downey, California to process a significant portion of the 19,000 parts that make up the rover. The parts being treated are those that will touch the Martian soil samples, whether drill bits and collection scoops, those that will move the samples from collection to testing, and those involved in storing the samples for possible collection by later missions.
Astro Pak has a long history with JPL and Dr. Brent Ekstrand, the company’s Vice President of Science and Technology previously served as a consultant on Mars 2020’s predecessor, the Mars Science Laboratory, better known as the Curiosity Rover Program. Accordingly, he was invited back by JPL to participate as a member of the independent review board that analyzed certain portions of the upcoming Mars 2020 mission.
To meet its commitments to the program, Astro Pak allocated a dedicated team and multiple work stations for this project, which will see the components processed to meet cleanliness levels ranging from Level 300 A/10 down to Level 50 A/10. One of the tools that will be used in the decontamination process is a new high temperature cleanroom oven that will heat tools along with the foil packaging for several hours at high temperatures in order to ensure complete sterility.
Further, anything that touches the rover will be collected, packaged and labeled as part of the custodial coordination process. Samples of fluids, water, solvents, gloves, wipes and more will be packaged and stored at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for 30 years. These samples will be used to test for false positives against any substances encountered on the Martian surface.