Prototype radar may help find water on Mars

Lawrence,KS (11-30-2001)

From Lawrence Journal World
By Terry Rombeck

It looks like a black shoe box with an antenna, but a prototype radar system developed by a Kansas University graduate student could someday help determine if there is water on Mars.

Using a fellowship from NASA, Carl Leuschen worked four years on the project while obtaining his Ph.D. in electrical engineering. He will graduate in December.

"Water on Mars can help us understand the history of the planets," Leuschen said. "One of the goals is to find if there is life on Mars. Water would be some indication there might be."

Finding water also could pave the way for manned missions to Mars.

Recent photographs showed signs that water may have been on the planet. The Mars Global Surveyor satellite recently photographed cracks on the surface that could have been caused by freezing and thawing of water, and a channel in the middle of a canyon that could have been carved by a river.

Another photo shows a circle on the surface that could have been produced by an asteroid that hit the land with moisture in it.

Leuschen, 28, received a $16,000 annual stipend from NASA for three years, with another $3,000 each year for equipment and travel expenses. Although he consulted scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he said he was "pretty much given free rein" on his research.

Leuschen's device has a 3-meter antenna that uses electromagnetic waves to measure soil contents as deep as 50 meters. He tested it this summer in Alaska, where layers of permafrost in the subsurface resemble Mars' soil.

Other researchers have been conducting similar projects throughout the country. NASA will consider all the projects when developing a radar that could actually travel to Mars aboard a rover such as the Mars Pathfinder.

Leuschen, who soon will begin a job at the applied physics lab at Johns Hopkins University, hopes to receive another NASA grant to continue the project. The final product would have to withstand wide temperature changes and be about the size of a cellular phone.

"It would have to be refined quite a bit," he said. "This was a one-person project. It's more or less to prove a concept to show it works."

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