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Projects: Planetary Microphones

The Mars Microphone

The Mars Microphone
The Mars Microphone
The flight spare of The Planetary Society's Mars Microphone, which flew to Mars aboard Mars Polar Lander. Credit: © Robin Weiner, Associated Press

The original Mars Microphone was developed for the Planetary Society by the University of California, Berkeley, Space Sciences Laboratory. It flew aboard NASA’s Mars Polar Lander spacecraft within a LIDAR instrument built by the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI).  Mars Polar Lander lost contact with Earth shortly after its descent to the Martian surface on December 3, 1999, and was never recovered. Nevertheless, our participation with the Mars Polar Lander mission demonstrated that a low-cost (less than $100,000), small (25 cubic centimeters) and lightweight (50 grams) microphone instrument could be constructed for a major NASA planetary mission.

A University of California, Berkeley team of Janet Luhmann, Dave Curtis, and Greg Delory built the original Mars Microphone from mostly off-the-shelf parts, including a microphone used in hearing aids and a microprocessor chip used in speech-recognition devices and talking toys. The Mars Microphone uses Sensory, Inc's RSC-164 IC (Integrated Circuit or "chip"), the then most popular IC for speech recognition in consumer electronics.

For more detailed information about the Mars Microphone, visit Greg Delory’s Mars Microphone website.

Mars Microphone Sounds

Suppose you found yourself on Mars without a spacesuit. What would you say? Probably "Help!" because the air is more than 100 times thinner than Earth's, far too thin to breathe, and, furthermore, it's primarily carbon dioxide, a nasty toxin.

Your understandably poignant plea wouldn't go far in the Martian air, which will mute even the loudest screams to near whispers. Stranger still, your voice would be lower pitched than on Earth because of the lower sound speed. But suppose, suspending disbelief for a short while, that you really could speak on Mars. How would you sound?

Recordings from the Mars Microphone

Before and during the microphone's testing and development for the Mars Polar Lander and Netlander missions, the microphone system was rigorously tested here on Earth. The sounds you can listen to through the links below were recorded by the Mars Microphone.