“Curiosity” gets a new project scientist
At the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced there would be a changing of the guard in its Mars exploration department. Everyone’s favorite Martian explorer, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity Rover, now has a new project scientist — Ashwin Vasavada.
Vasavada succeeds John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, who recently became chair of Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and will remain a member of Curiosity’s science team. Vasavada has been deputy project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project since 2004 — five years before the name Curiosity was chosen for the project’s rover.
“John Grotzinger put his heart and soul into Curiosity for seven years, leaving a legacy of success and scientific achievement,” Vasavada said as he took over as project scientist for JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), currently operating on the planet’s surface.
The project scientist’s role is to coordinate efforts of an international team of nearly 500 scientists operating the rover’s 10 science instruments, planning rover investigations and assessing data from Curiosity. The project scientist also works closely with the JPL-based project manager and rover engineering team to maximize the science while using the rover efficiently and safely.
Vasavada has helped shepherd the project through development of the spacecraft, selection and integration of the science instruments, selection of the landing site in Mars’ Gale Crater, activities of Curiosity since its August 2012 landing, and publication of many research findings.
Researchers are currently using Curiosity to investigate the geological layers at the base of a mountain inside Gale Crater. Recent findings indicate that the lower portion of the mountain formed as sedimentary deposits in lakes and streams. During its two-year prime mission, Curiosity found evidence that Mars offered favorable conditions for microbial life about three billion years ago.
Vasavada concludes, “Now I look forward to continuing our expedition to Mars’ ancient past, with a healthy rover and a dedicated and passionate international team. And yes, this is all just incredibly cool.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a division of Caltech, based in Pasadena, California. JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.