WWU's Melissa Rice celebrates one-year anniversary of rover Mars landing with speaking events at Museum of Flight

Zoe Fraley

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars, and it has been quite a year of discovery. Western Today caught up with Associate Professor of Planetary Science Melissa Rice, who worked the Martian night shift to guide and monitor the rover during its first two months. Rice will speak at the Museum of Flight tonight at 6:45 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday to share her experience as a member of the Perseverance science team as part of a weekend of rover events to celebrate the anniversary. WWU students Acacia Arielle Evans and Alivia Eng will be at the museum Saturday answering questions about the mission as well.  Explore the Museum of Flight’s Perseverance anniversary weekend events here.

WT: What do you think are some of the biggest accomplishments and lessons learned in the year since Perseverance landed?
Melissa Rice: We've had three big scientific accomplishments in the past year: successfully drilling rock samples at three different outcrops that we plan to bring back to Earth; confirming that Jezero crater was the site of an ancient, long-lived crater lake; and the first flight of an aircraft on another planet!

WT: How has the rover's job changed since you were working on the Martian night shift? And how has your work on the rover evolved with it?
Rice: The first two months of operations were on "Mars Time," meaning that we worked through the Martian nights, seven days a week. Now, we only work on Earth days, five days a week, although our schedule still shifts around a bit. Our work days can start as early as 6 a.m., and go as late as 11 p.m. at night.

WT: What is next for the rover as it heads into its second year on Mars?
Rice: The next big thing will be driving to the Jezero delta, which is the primary reason that NASA selected Jezero crater as the landing site. We landed several kilometers away from the delta, and have been exploring our local vicinity in the past year. Soon, however, we'll start the long drive northwards to reach the delta.

WT: What has it been like for you to work on this mission, and what are you looking forward to next?
Rice: It has been tremendously exhilarating and exciting to work on the mission, but it has been somewhat isolating working entirely remotely, with team members who are distributed across the globe. I'm looking forward to traveling with my WWU students to the first in-person team meeting this spring, where we'll get to meet many of the mission scientists and engineers for the first time!

Want to learn more about Rice’s first two months with the rover? Read all about it in the Window magazine article “Sixty Days on the Martian Night Shift”

Friday, February 18, 2022 - 11:13am
The Curiosity rover takes a selfie in Gale Crater on Mars last May.

The Curiosity rover takes a selfie in Gale Crater on Mars last May.