For our second ROADS “Meet a NASA Expert,” we were pleased to have planetary scientist Briony Horgan join us from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University where she is an assistant professor. Her research program uses data from NASA satellites and rovers, along with lab and field work back on Earth, to understand the surface processes that have shaped Mars and the Moon. Briony is a participating scientist on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover mission and a Co-I on NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, the first step toward Mars Sample Return.
The surface of Mars is the frontline in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth, and NASA has devoted three generations of robotic, semi-autonomous rovers to this search. Through the efforts of the scientists and engineers behind the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, we now know that Mars hosted watery environments that may have been habitats for ancient life 4 billion years ago. The next step is the Mars2020 rover, which will search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars and collect samples to return to Earth. Why is this search important, and how much can these robotic geologists do alone? There was Q&A with students after Briony’s talk.