How a Washington geologist is helping with the search for life on Mars

Feb 19, 2021, 4:18 PM
Mars Perseverance Rover...
The Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Thursday. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

NASA celebrated the successful landing of its Perseverance rover on the surfaces of Mars on Thursday. Now, the real work begins, as the rover begins its search for signs of life on the planet’s surface, with the aid of Western Washington University planetary geologist Dr. Melissa Rice.

Dr. Rice holds a couple jobs on the mission, as part of the team managing the rover camera that takes panoramic color images on Mars, and helping direct discussions about where the rover should drive and drill next.

That’s all in service of the larger mission to identify signs of alien life, albeit not in the way that we’re familiar with from movies and TV.

“We’re not looking for little green men; we don’t expect to see a dinosaur bone sticking up out of the ground,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “What we’re looking for when we look for life on Mars is evidence for ancient microbes.”

UW physics professor helps design instrument on Mars Perseverance rover

That’s why NASA opted to land the Perseverance rover in Mars’s Jezero Crater, believed to be the site of a lake that dried up billions of years ago. It’s there that NASA will be looking for evidence of primitive single-celled organisms.

There’s more to the mission than that, though, with this being the first step in a 10-year journey to send the first ever samples from Mars back to Earth.

That will see Perseverance drilling into rocks, extracting sample cores, hermetically sealing them into tubes, and then leaving them on Mars for another mission to pick up.

“That mission will launch no earlier than 2026,” Dr. Rice described. “It will go to Mars, pick up those samples, and then launch them away from Mars into orbit. And it’s going to take a third mission to go back to Mars into orbit, grab those samples from orbit around Mars, and bring them all the way back to Earth.”

You can listen to Dr. Rice’s full Ross Files interview here.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: Far more than meets the eye when it comes to how we use emojis

We have words, yet sometimes they aren’t enough. That's where emojis come in, giving us a diverse way to express ourselves to loved ones.
18 hours ago
Holiday cheer, grief...
KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: What if we shared our grief with our holiday cheer this year?

Its December and holiday cheer is everywhere, but not for all of us. So, what if this season we shared the cheer and the grief?
2 days ago
rain, meteorologist...
MyNorthwest Staff

‘Fingerprints of warming planet’ amid Seattle area’s year of record-breaking weather

When meteorologist Ted Buehner last joined KIRO Radio, the temperature was reaching triple digits. Five months later, there has been record rainfall.
2 days ago
World AIDS Day...
KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: More hope now than ever for cure to decades-long epidemic

Decades after HIV and AIDS first surfaced, there's more hope than ever for an eventual cure within the next decade.
3 days ago
Tacoma police, South King County...
MyNorthwest Staff

South King County mayors demand action from state to end rash of violence

Multiple mayors in South King County are banding together to combat a violent trend after seven people were shot in four days. 
4 days ago
KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: Focusing less on money and more on giving

What if we focused on giving more every day? And what if -- beyond money -- we gave more love, wisdom, and leadership?
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
How a Washington geologist is helping with the search for life on Mars