- © 2015 by the Mineralogical Society of America
Landed missions to the surface of Mars have long sought to determine the material properties of rocks and soils encountered during the course of surface exploration. Increasingly, emphasis is placed on the study of materials formed or altered in the presence of liquid water. Placed in the context of their geological environment, these materials are then used to help evaluate ancient habitability. The Mars Science Laboratory mission—with its Curiosity rover—seeks to establish the availability of elements that may have fueled microbial metabolism, including carbon, hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen, phosphorus, and a host of others at the trace element level. These measurements are most valuable when placed in a geological framework of ancient environments as interpreted from mapping, combined with an understanding of the petrogenesis of the igneous rocks and derived sedimentary materials. In turn, the analysis of solid materials and the reconstruction of ancient environments provide the basis to assess past habitability.