By: Chloe English (Reporter ‘24)
On February 18th, 2020, NASA’s Perseverance rover (nicknamed “Percy”) touched down on Mars. The event sparked many people’s interests, including FCS’s own Dr. Deb Skapik. When asked her opinion on the landing, Skapik commented, “This was an incredible engineering feat. Not only have we landed on another world, but we landed right side up, exactly where we planned to.” The rover was launched on July 30, 2020, and had a relatively “short” trip to Mars. Skapik shared that the goal of the mission is to look for evidence of past life on Mars, specifically in the crater where Perseverance landed. When Skapik looked at the “jaw-dropping 360-panorama shared by Percy," her first thought was, "There was absolutely water here once.” Skapik also gave a detailed description of the mission’s process, saying that the samples the rover takes from the crater will be put into tubes and left on the surface of Mars to be retrieved on a future mission; additionally, Skapik explained, “there are several instruments aboard the rover to do other analyses looking for subsurface structure and chemical analysis.” These instruments will hopefully be able to help scientists find out more about substances found on the red planet.
This poses another question: How will the rover affect our knowledge of life on Mars? According to Deb Skapik, “If evidence for past microbial life is found, this will probably strengthen the opinion of some that life is seeded abundantly by way of organic-carrying comets. If no evidence for past life is found, that is curious and will force us to ask what is unique about our Earth that makes it teem with life.” Both options will likely branch into more questions about our universe, and what is in it.
When asked how the landing affects her teaching, Skapik had this to say: “This mission inspires many. Compare the media portrayal of this landing to the landing on the Moon in 1969. Now, we see women and people of color leading the way in Mission Control; this was not the case in 1969. I hope my students notice this and [notice] that the fields of space science and astrophysics are open to ALL.” Well said, Deb. It is huge that more POC are a part of NASA and the field of space science, and it’s great that the media recognizes that. Skapik also announced that she hopes more of her students will “choose to explore these incredible opportunities.”
An interesting aspect of the project: Dr. Skapik sent her name to Mars! You can send your name to Mars on NASA’s next flight by clicking on the below link: https://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/future