Life (Almost) on Mars: Keynote Speaker Talks Rover Mission

Steven Squyres
Steven Squyres

For Steven Squyres, Mars would be a nice place to visit but he wouldn’t want to live there. The Cornell University professor and principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project regaled attendees of the IES Annual Conference with stories of “Spirit” and “Opportunity”—the two original robotic rovers that drove across Mars’s surface. While the mission was expected to last 90 days, it’s now been going for more than 13 years.

Squyres calls the mission, “the adventure of a lifetime,” but when asked about colonizing Mars, he expressed skepticism. “Colonizing means you live there and raise your children there. It’s a romantic notion, but Mars is a desolate, horrible place.”

Squyres took the audience from the challenges of the rover landing to the obstacles encountered during exploration, whether from rocks or dunes. The rovers were designed to drive 600 meters total, but their performance has reached 200 meters per day at times. In one case, though, that included 192 miles of wheel turns to move 1 meter when stuck in a dune.

A question about lighting was inevitable from the IES audience, so when asked how lighting could help his research, Squyres suggested an illumination source on the deck of a rover for more night discovery.