Dr. Paul Mahaffy is the Principle Investigator for the SAM analysis suite on Mars Science Laboratory Rover (Curiosity). An important goal of upcoming missions to Mars is to understand if life could have developed there. The vehicle should land in 2012.
The task of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments and the other Curiosity investigations is to move us steadily toward that goal with an assessment of the habitability of our neighboring planet through a series of chemical and geological measurements. SAM is designed to search for organic compounds and inorganic volatiles and measure isotope ratios.
Other instruments on Curiosity will provide elemental analysis and identify minerals. Dr. Mahaffy discusses how SAM will analyze both atmospheric samples and gases evolved from powdered rocks that may have formed billions of years ago with Curiosity providing access to interesting sites scouted by orbiting cameras and spectrometers.