It’s no secret to those who are following the story: there are two Rover vehicles currently treading their way along the surface of Mars in order to find out a little more about the mysterious planet. The Rovers, codenamed Curiosity and Opportunity, have been exploring Mars’ surface for over a decade now and recently were able to communicate information pertaining to a crashed meteorite on the planet’s surface. Subsequently, technology experts back on Earth were able to print a sample of the information using 3D printers and have done so with precision accuracy.
The very fact that the Rovers have been skimming the surface of Mars for over a decade is nothing short of monumental in itself. Reflecting back on where technology was a decade ago, it’s easy to see how far we’ve come as consumers here on Earth. How many of those decade-old computers still have functional life against today’s demands? What about mobile devices from a decade ago? Very few of those cell phones are still hanging around our pockets, since very few of them meet the demands of what we need them to today.
The Rovers have lasted over 40% of their expected lifespan and have made some of the most substantial discoveries that those researching Mars have been able to see. This was and is all without endangering human life, unlike the ill-fated crew involved with Columbia, who each lost their lives just months before Opportunity was sent into outer space.
One of the biggest discoveries that Opportunity has made is Block Island. It is a fragment of meteorite discovered in 2009. It’s particularly important to the entire mission as most meteorites deteriorate when they hit Mars, since the atmosphere surrounding it isn’t strong enough to slow the collision and its impact is quite severe. However, there is a path within the atmosphere of Mars that is shallow enough to keep meteorites in tact, which is seemingly the path taken by Block Island as it is the largest surviving fragment of a meteorite ever found on Mars.
The camera on board Opportunity was able to capture images of the 67 cm meteorite and relay them back to NASA. Since gathering data on the meteorite, NASA has been able to reproduce a precise replica of the meteorite using 3D printers.
The Printed Result
NASA used a FDM machine and ABS to recreate a replica of Block Island, which was printed in 11 sections and glued together. Using these pieces, researchers were able to examine the contours of the rock and believe it entered the atmosphere over 4,000 Million years ago. Despite having this data since 2009, it wasn’t only until recently that replicas were able to be printed since the leading minds behind the project believed the only true way to research the fragment was to be able to print life sized replicas of it and the technology to do so only recently became available. This required Opportunity to relay different images at different times in order to ensure the models would be completely accurate for scientific research.