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USC professor named to 2020 Mars mission team

Published: Sep. 18, 2014 at 3:53 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2014 at 3:48 AM EDT
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The next NASA mission to Mars will include the SuperCam instrument package riding atop the...
The next NASA mission to Mars will include the SuperCam instrument package riding atop the rover. (Source: sc.edu)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Mike Angel, Ph.D, a chemistry professor at the University of South Carolina, will be a part of a team of scientists whose proposed instrument, called SuperCam, was selected to be part of the next Mars lander, scheduled to launch in 2020, NASA announced.

The 2020 Mars probe will carry an instrument never before used on Mars or any space mission. SuperCam, which will sit atop the mission's mobile rover, will include a standoff Raman spectrometer.

"The ChemCam that's on Mars now, on Curiosity [which landed in 2012], has a laser-based system called LIBS for doing elemental analysis of rocks on the surface," Angel said. "An improved version of that will be on SuperCam, but we're also going to have Raman — that's the big change. Raman is another laser-based technique, but it's a molecular technique. It tells you how the molecules are put together."

Angel is one of the pioneers of standoff spectroscopy. He undertook the research more than 20 years ago to develop new ways to do chemical analysis in places where an instrument can't get too close.

"One way I talk about my research is to say that I do spectroscopy, and I like to do measurements in extreme environments. I've been doing this my whole career," Angel said. "When I first started out as a post-doc, I was working at Hanford in Richland, Wash., where they store high-level nuclear wastes in hundreds of underground tanks, and they were leaking. Back then, I developed this idea of building a small standoff Raman instrument so we could see what was in those tanks. That's how it all started."

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