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Dec 21, 2016 03:50 AM EST

University Of Alberta Professor Joins NASA In Mars Probe

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NASA's ICON satellite to study ionosphere, space weather

A professor from the University of Alberta has joined NASA's search for life on Mars. Chris Herd is a planetary geologist.

The race to Mars has stirred up the interest of many recently since space company giants such as Boeing and SpaceX announced their plans to get on the red planet. President Obama also confirmed that NASA is aiming to send humans to Mars and return them safely to Earth by the 2020s.

NASA has already discovered flowing water on the red planet and that there is evidence of ice on one of Jupiter's moons. The space agency has also been able to map Pluto.

According to Edmonton Journal, Chris Herd, from the University of Alberta, is the only scientist in Canada who will be joining the large group of international experts tasked to advise NASA on how to run the Mars rover. The rover is slated to be launched in 2020.

The car-sized vehicle is expected to travel up to 20 kilometers across Mars' surface. It will be equipped with a drill that will allow it to collect core samples of rocks and soils.

Herd noted that one of the main goals of the mission is to explore what the planet's conditions were like in the past. A search for fossilized signs of microbial life will also be conducted.

"People have looked at what type of samples should be brought back to answer the big questions about Mars," Herd said. "The ultimate question is 'Was there ever life there?'"

NASA has already sent the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on earlier missions. The upcoming rover will also be tasked to test a method for producing oxygen. This is to prepare for human visits in the future.

Meanwhile, it was reported that SpaceX has delayed its demonstration flights with NASA. The company revealed that they are "carefully assessing" their designs, systems and processes. This comes after the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket on Sep. 1.

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