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Two UNLV Scientists to Support NASA’s Mission to Mars

From British rockstar David Bowie and Hollywood Studios to the average stargazer, curious humans have often asked an unanswered question: Is there life on Mars?

We may finally have an answer now―or at least determine if the Red Planet ever supported life―with the help of two UNLV-based scientists. 

Both UNLV geoscientists Elizabeth “Libby” Hausrath and Arya Udry were selected as participating scientists for NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission to discover ancient microbial life, collect rock and soil samples for return to Earth, and research Mars’ geology and climate.

Both of their presences in notable considering MIT is the only other university to have two participating scientists selected out of 15 total participating scientists from North America and Europe.

Hausrath is part of the team that will choose which rock and soil samples Perseverance will transport back to Earth due to the limited space on the rover.

“These samples with the potential past life that they may contain within them, represent an amazing opportunity for future scientists,” Hausrath said during a NASA press conference Wednesday afternoon. 

Udry will be tasked with helping the rover distinguish magmatic rocks―which are formed from the cooling of magma or lava―from sedimentary and metamorphic rocks to help further the understanding of how these rocks formed. Her research will help the team better understand how Mars’ climate changed over time. 

NASA isn’t the only agency with Martian ambitions.  

The United Arab Emirates recently became the first Arab country to reach Mars with its Hope space probe, which entered the planet’s orbit on Feb. 9 and recently captured a photo of Mars. China also reached Mars’ orbit for the first time with its Tianwen-1 mission spacecraft a day after the UAE’s mission.

Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk has also expressed interesting in reaching and establishing human settlements on Mars through his space exploration company SpaceX. 

The Perseverance Rover originally launched from Cape Canaveral last July and is scheduled to touchdown on the Mars’ Jezero Crater today around 1:55 p.m. PST. The Rover will remain on Mars until 2031 before its set to return to Earth with Martian samples.

Hausrath noted during the press conference that the Perseverance mission should serve as an inspiration for aspiring scientists, who will be needed in the future once the rover returns to Earth. 

“What I would like to say to future scientists is that Perseverance is well-named,” Hausrath said. “Perseverance is what it takes to be a scientist and I would encourage everybody who’s interested in studying science to please persevere.”

Click here to watch live coverage of The Pererverance Rover Landing. Live landing commentary will begin at 12:15 p.m. PST on the NASA TV Public Channel and the agency’s website, as well as the NASA App, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, and THETA.TV.