VIDEO: The truth is out here
Gale Crater sits on a dry, barren, windy plain where temperatures edge into the 60s only during the summer and plummet below freezing most nights. Its mixtures of sun-baked rocks, jagged scarps and deep sands make geological research a struggle.
The fact that Gale Crater is 140 million miles away and on the surface of Mars makes things even more difficult. But what’s locked in the rocks of the windswept crater may help us understand how – and where – life could thrive in the universe.
Each morning, Western’s Melissa Rice wakes up to data fresh from the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, and gets to work. Rice, an assistant professor with dual appointments to both the Geology and Physics departments, is part of the Science Team with the six-wheeled Curiosity, sending it new instructions and plotting its course through the harsh Martian terrain. The team tells Curiosity when to gather samples and drill cores, when to take photos and conduct experiments in its on-board lab.
“Every day brings something new. Some new discovery, or question or quandary,” says Rice, a native of Sammamish. “Solving these problems and working our way around the challenges that inevitably arise as we set about to explore another planet is why I got into science in the first place. It’s just fascinating.”
Rice came to Western this year from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics at Wellesley College and earned her doctorate at Cornell, which is where she first started working on the rover teams.