Monday, 29 April 2013

A Trip Around Mars - Steve Squyres and the Mars Exploration Rovers

The image is a montage panorama from the Mars rover Spirit (RIP) at the summit of Husband Hill, looking into the floor of Gusev Crater.  It's known as the Everest pan and is a favourite of Steve Squyres, the lead scientist for both Mars Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.  Kevin Fong and I interviewed Steve at his office in Cornell University for the BBC Radio series A Trip Around Mars.  On this page, I have posted excerpts of this superb interview - much of which didn't make it into the broadcast programmes.

Steve and Kevin with part of the 20ft Everest pan as background
In this first clip, Steve talks about the making of the Everest pan.

"A Desolate Kind of Beauty"

Sand dunes at Gusev Crater
Another image taken by Spirit.  Both rovers far exceeded their expected working lives.  They landed in 2004.  Spirit lost power for good six years later.   Opportunity is still going.  In this next clip, Steve talks to Kevin about the harsh beauty of the landscapes through which both robots have trundled.

Victoria Crater from above

"Some Things on Mars are Just Uniquely Martian"

The point of the rovers' explorations has been to characterise the conditions under which the rocks in their paths formed.  Was there water there?  What kind of watery environments?  Could these have been places hospitable to Martian microbes?  As you can hear in this next clip, Spirit found a place suggestive of geysers and volcanic steam vents (possibly as long ago as 4 billion years) and Opportunity discovered evidence of something like a dessicating acidic salt pan.   Steve and Kevin then go onto discuss the wider evidence for a lot of water in the planet's deep past - catacylsmic floods and the controversy of Martian oceans.

Opportunity's view of the Meridiani Plains

"Humans very much belong on Mars - it can't happen soon enough"

The Columbia Hills were named after the lost space shuttle, and each peak is named for a crew member.
In this last clip Kevin asks Steve Squyres about his hopes and inspirations.  His daily hope is that Opportunity remains alive for at least one day longer.  Then talk turns to the search for evidence of life on Mars, how Steve came to spend his working life on Mars and the place of humans in the Martian landscape.

Victoria Crater from rim edge
Mars lander sites

1 comment:

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