Jul 7, 1997

Aerogel - and the Mars Rover





July 8, 1997


Aerogel Sample
Aerogel is the lightest solid material known - only three times the density of air - and has tremendous insulating capability. Discovered in the 1930s by a Stanford University researcher, it's the lightest solid known. A block the size of a human weighs less than a pound, but is able to support the weight of a subcompact car or about half a ton.

Dr. David Noever, a member of Marshall's three-man Aerogel experiment team, believes results from recent space research indicate that they are on the right track to making the hazy material transparent enough to see through clearly. Aerogel is sometimes called "frozen smoke" because of its appearance.


In its current form, Aerogel has been used in the space program as the insulating material aboard the Mars rover (pictured at right). The rover has performed spectacularly, gathering information on the surface of Mars, since the Pathfinder landing on July 4, 1997.


Donna Shirley, head of Mars exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is quoted by USA today (July 8, 1997), saying "If we'd had to use conventional insulation, the rover would have frozen."

For more information on Aerogel, we have the following news stories:

and a background article on potential Aerogel applications:

Japan's only 24 hour science and technology news channel also reported on Aerogel on May 7, 1997. This site uses RealAudio alongside printed text.


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Author: Dave Dooling, Bryan Walls
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack