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At 44 years old, he is tall and boyishly earnest, but savvy enough to understand good public relations.

He wants to persuade NASA officials to pay to build an ultra-lightweight geochronometer and then send it on a rover to the Moon or Mars.

What sets Anderson's system apart is his goal to shrink the whole operation down to something that would fit on a desktop.

Then, rather than waiting for planetary fragments to fall to Earth, he wants to send his device to the planets.

It is one of the rarest and most sought-after types of meteorite — a piece of Mars that was blasted into space by an asteroid impact and eventually landed on Earth.

“Knowing what it is makes me excited to see it every time,” Anderson says.

Cameras orbiting the Moon and Mars can zoom in on objects as small as dinner plates, and radars can penetrate several metres below the surface.In a plastic case is a greenish-grey rock, a 4.5-billion-year-old piece of the asteroid Vesta.Next to it rests a dark sliver of 2.8-billion-year-old lava from the Moon.And the device could even find a wide audience on Earth, among geologists who could use it to map the ages of rocks in the field, rather than delivering samples to a lab and waiting months for the results.But first, Anderson has to transform the finicky set-up that sprawls across his lab into one that could fly in space.

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