Professor's Role in Mars Rover Draws Attention
Aug 03, 2012
Could life exist on Mars?
Dr. Heidi Manning, professor of physics, hopes to have an answer to this question soon.
She is a part of a large scientific team that will analyze data and recreate experiments conducted by Curiosity. The large robotic rover successfully landed on the Red Planet late Sunday night.
Curiosity is equipped with 10 different scientific instruments. Manning’s team is responsible for one of these instruments, SAM, a chemical laboratory that collects samples from Mars’ surface, looking for organic molecules.
“Amino acids are the building blocks of life,” Manning says. “If we find them, we have an idea if it was once habitable in the past or could be again.”
Manning has been working on the NASA-based project all year long. Conference calls every other week have prepared the team for what they will face when data comes in.
She will fly to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 14, where the team will use an identical apparatus to recreate the experiments and data that SAM is collecting.
On Sunday, Manning and her colleagues anxiously awaited Curiosity's complex landing sequence, which NASA had dubbed "seven minutes of terror."
The risk is essential for the mission and for making advances in science.
“If you think about all the things that could go wrong, you’d never learn anything new,” she says.
Two hours after landing on Mars, the rover transmitted its first high-resolution image of the Red Planet.
Manning is excited to be a part of what she hopes will be groundbreaking discoveries.
“It is surreal to be a part of what everyone is reading about,” she says.
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech