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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Western assistant professor speaks about future of Curiosity Mars Rover

Western assistant professor of geology Melissa Rice discussed NASA’s Mars Rover Missions and new discoveries found on Mars at City Council on Tuesday, April 7.

The audience was given a pair of 3-D glasses when the presentation began; Rice shared new 3-D images of Mars that were accentuated with the glasses.

Rice began by talking about the history of Mars and how Mars had its start in the science fiction world because not much was actually known about the planet.

“It was generally accepted that Mars could be a world that was alive with life,” Rice said.

Rice, who is a part of two NASA Mars rover teams, explained the importance of scars from ancient river valleys being discovered on Mars by these rovers.

“Mars had to at least have been more interesting than it is today,” Rice said.

The presentation involved a 3-D Mars tour showing landscapes including seas of sand dunes on the planet, the most active geologic process occurring on Mars today, Rice said.

NASA’s most current rover expedition is the Curiosity Rover, which landed on Mars two years ago, Rice said.

Rice explained Curiosity’s job is to discover evidence that water once existed on Mars, a mission that is proving successful.

While showing real footage of the rover landing, Rice said NASA knew immediately that they had landed in an ancient streambed.

“We hope to uncover the secrets of Mars with our robot army,” Rice said. “Was Mars a place where life could’ve thrived and survived?”

NASA’s Curiosity mission is funded by taxpayer dollars and access to information and all photos related to the mission are available for the public to view at mars.nasa.gov.

Western students Andrew Lindsey and Dave Stanfield both came to the lecture out of interest for the new discoveries and footage that was being shown.

“It’s been really cool to what has been going on and what the actual mission plan was,” Lindsey said.

Stanfield said he didn’t realize NASA posts the resources to their website as soon as they are available.

“I tried to follow [Curiosity’s landing] as closely as I could without being fanatical,” Stanfield said.

Rice stressed that if there is to be more exploration on Mars, samples need to make their way back to Earth, which is a hard task to achieve.

“The most important thing we can do to better understand Mars is to bring Mars back to Earth,” Rice said.

The next rover going to Mars will be in 2020 and will attempt to capture samples of rocks while on the planet, Rice said.

To help NASA figure out where on the planet to place the new rover, Rice will be working with Western graduate students this summer to decide where the rover should land.

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