During the Fourth UN/ESA Workshop on Basic Space Science, held in Cairo in July 1994, the possible participation of Egypt in future Mars rover missions was discussed. One concept suggested was for Egypt to participate in these missions in the design, building, and testing of a drill for obtaining subsurface samples.
The Planetary Society (TPS), co-sponsor of this series of Basic Space Science Workshops, is following up on this suggestion. Society representatives Adriana Ocampo and Chris McKay, together with Egyptian scientist Farouk El-Baz, and Society Executive Director Louis Friedman have begun organizing study of the concept. They informed the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences about the idea, and they, in turn, formally invited the Egyptian Ministry of Scientific Research to study the concept for potential use on the Russian Mars 98 Mission. That study has now begun, under the direction of Dr. F. El-Baz.
Of the many important scientific objectives of the Marsokhod mission, among the most interesting, is analyzing subsurface samples. Inclusion of some sort of drilling mechanism in the payload of such a mission would assist scientists in the investigation of volatiles, organic materials, and mineralogy.
Twenty years ago, the arm on the Viking Mars lander was able to obtain samples from depths up to 10 centimeter. Today, a drill with the capability to bore at least an order of magnitude (greater than one meter) deeper would be essential to further research and investigation.
Egypt has expertise in drill development. A few years ago, as part of the archeological exploration of the pyramids, a sophisticated drilling system was developed to drill into and deploy a camera into a subsurface chamber without allowing air into the chamber. The drill perforated the limestone to a depth of 2 meters without the use of lubricants or cooling fluids that might have contaminated the pit's environment, and successfully collected (6) samples. This experience as well as more common terrestrial applications suggest that the necessary technology base for a drill development can be brought together. In the proposed application for Mars 98 Egypt would assume the financial responsibility for the drill as part of their Marsokhod participation.
A study team of Egyptian scientists, collaborating with American, Russian, and European scientists is now being organized.