Dreaming Of The Red Planet: WWU Professor On Finding A Home For The Next Mars Rover


For a long time, Melissa Rice's big dream was dance. She wanted to be a ballerina ever since she saw "The Nutcracker" at four years old. In high school, she danced three hours a day at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. “And it got to the point where my friends who were continuing on seriously were stopping their high school studies so they could dance full time," Rice says. However, as Rice was deciding whether she wanted to drop out of high school and take her dancing to the next level, she took an astronomy class. “We started talking about the life and death of the sun. And it hadn’t occurred to me before that the sun had a life cycle, that our star was middle aged and it would die someday," remembers Rice. "And in the sun's death throws it would expand to the huge red giant stage, burn up the earth and everything that ever existed ... I decided at that point that science was the only thing worth studying because in 4.5 billion years after this happens and the solar system is kaput, science is going to be the only thing left.” Rice is now a professor of planetary science at Western Washington University and she’s working on a dream even bigger than dancing on stage in New York City: finding signs of life on Mars. Rice is a scientist on the Mars Rover team which aims to send a new rover to Mars in 2020 to begin the process of sending rocks samples back to Earth. Sound Effect producer Allie Ferguson talked to Rice about this ambitious goal and the challenges of getting samples from Mars. They also discuss what renews her teenage faith in science when times are tough for the rovers.

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Monday, August 29, 2016 - 9:19am