The NASA Connection

by Mary Martialay on October 9, 2012

One of the perks of having friends in high places is the “behind-the-scenes tour,” and this past weekend, the Rensselaer community got a multimedia tour from some very well-placed friends: the Rensselaer School of Science Dean Laurie Leshin, and three Rensselaer alumni, all of whom are working on NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission, currently roving the surface of Mars.

Before an audience of hundreds in the concert hall of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Leshin and alumni Michael Meyer, Frederick Serricchio, and Kobie Boykins took us though the challenges of designing the launch vehicle, spaceship, and rover, surviving the spectacular “seven minutes of terror” between space and the Martian surface, and some of the findings (including 3-D images) now being transmitted to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Curiosity is a large mobile laboratory, nearly five times as heavy as its older sisters Spirit and Opportunity. After a journey of eight months, the rover reached the surface of Mars in August, and will travel farther on the Red Planet than any previous Rover, using a sophisticated payload of 10 instruments to seek water, organic materials, and other indicators of habitability in Martian rocks and dust.

The inside scoop has its benefits. For example, to the unitiated, this close-up image of crumbling rock doesn’t do much to impress, until Leshin explained that scientists know only one way the rounded pebbles seen in the photo can be formed: through exposure to flowing water.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

But the best part, frankly, is that these guys put on one heck of a show. Enough talk. Check it out above!

Click here for bios of Leshin, Meyer, Serricchio, and Boykins.