Gearing up for Landing Day—USGS Mars Rover Team (Dr. Ryan Anderson)

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Gearing up for Landing Day - An Interview with USGS Scientist and Mars Rover Team Member, Dr. Ryan Anderson

USGS Astrogeology has been involved in the Perseverance Mission from selecting the landing site and generating a map of the area that is on board the rover to rover operations once Perseverance lands on the red planet. Learn more about Astrogeology's involvement from scientists who will be living on Mars time to work with Perseverance daily!

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Length: 00:07:43

Location Taken: Flagstaff, AZ, US

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Hi everyone. My name is Railyn Stokes and I work for the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and today I'm joined by a colleague of mine, Ryan Anderson. Hi everyone. I'm Ryan. Ryan is a planetary scientist at USGS Astrogeology. He is currently working on the ChemCam Instrument team on the Curiosity Rover Mission exploring Gale Crater. He's also a member of the Super Cam instrument team for the Perseverance is currently on its way to Jezero Crater Mars. So today, we're really excited that you joined us, Ryan. We have a couple of questions for you leading up to the landing of Perseverance. Okay. So our first question can you tell us about the SuperCam instrument on Perseverance? Yeah, so SuperCam is uh as they might indicate. It's the successor of ChemCam so ChemCam is an instrument on curiosity that uses a laser to zap rocks at a distance and it makes a little tiny spark and then it collects the light from that spark and you can use that to tell what the rock is made of. SuperCam is similar and it has the same capability to zap the rocks, but it also has a different mode  where it shines the laser light on the rock and it can use that to measure what minerals are there rather than what atoms are there. So you can tell the mineralogy and the chemistry with one instrument.  SuperCam also does infrared spectroscopy and has a color camera instead of black and white camera. So it's sort of a Swiss army knife of an instrument. It can tell you all sorts of things and it's a nice way to explore our surroundings from a distance before getting up close and doing more with the rover with the arm and more complicated things. Well, it does sound like it was rightfully named. Yes. So can you summarize some of the biggest discoveries that ChemCam has made during Curiosity's mission so far and how they've changed our understanding of Mars? Yeah. So ChemCam is uh it's a really useful instrument because instead of having to drive the rover over and reach out the arm and spend overnight or a day drilling or measuring in you know right up close, we can zap rocks from a distance. We can zap several rocks each day and each rock we zap we hit you know ten to sixteen points on it and each point we get thirty spectra so it brings a ton of data in and it's a really great way to explore the rover surroundings get a quick look at the chemistry and it's also really nice because it targets a pinpoint. It doesn't measure a big area. It gets very very precise and so we can measure things like chemical veins where there are special minerals that have been precipitated from the water. We can shoot really small things or we can just shoot across the surface of a rock and see how it changes over a distance and so by collecting all this data every day we've been able to find some cool things. We found some really interesting minerals so ChemCam was the first instrument on the road to detect the sulfate veins we've seen all over Gale Crater. It also has found some places where there's manganese, which is sort of a weird metal that people are not familiar with, but manganese really only gets concentrated when you  have conditions that are known as oxidizing, so that's not what we expected for ancient Mars. So we're trying to scratch our heads and understand what that means for what the environment was like. More generally, we're seeing all of these different little veins and little interesting areas of chemistry areas with really high silica. These all tend to point back to water interacting with the rocks. Water transporting chemicals from one place to another depositing them in concentrated locations. And so with all this data from we can watch how the chemistry changes over the mission and we can measure  these really small features and all of that is indicating that at least at Gale Crater and we think we'll probably see something similar at Jezero Crater with SuperCam is that the water has been interacting with Mars and it's happened multiple times. It's not that it was just wet once, it's that it was wet and then the rocks solidified and then it fractured more water came through and then it fractured again and more water came through so it's this complicated story of repeated uh cycles of water interaction rather than just one time a long time ago when it was wet. Wow. So ChemCam was definitely a busy rover and has set Perseverance up for some success sounds like. Yeah, we hope so. So what are you most excited about for the Mars 2020 mission? A lot of things I mean, it's an exciting mission overall. It's I think for me the most. Thing is just getting to see a new place on Mars from the ground. You know, I was lucky   enough to map Gale Crater before we landed there so I knew what it look like from space and then we got to see it on the ground and now having done similar work at Jezero Crater, you know we have our  ideas coming in from orbit and then you land on the ground and you see what it looks like from the  ground. That's super exciting, but it's also a really exciting mission because it's the first step toward sample return. For the Perseverance Rover, we'll be collecting samples of rocks and soils and storing them on the surface of Mars for a future mission to come and retrieve them and bring them back to Earth. And so it's really exciting to be part of the team that gets to pick those samples, get to make all the measurements with the rover instruments like SuperCam that will provide the supporting information to put those samples into the geologic context so they can be useful when they're returned to Earth. And it can really answer some of our big questions about Mars that we can't answer with the  rover that's up there. We have to bring them back to the lab. So it's really exciting that this mission is the first step in the process. Awesome. Yeah, there's a lot to look forward to. So when Perseverance lands  you're going to be supporting two Rovers on Mars. That seems like a good problem to have, but how are you going to manage? Uh it's going be a little bit crazy. We're still figuring out who's going to be living on Mars time when and who's going to be doing what when. The nice thing is that it's a big team and everyone has their own specific roles, so no one has to be on all the time you know. You participate, you do your role. I usually do down link for the instruments, which means I look at the data as it comes down from Mars and you know flag things that are interesting but I don't have to do that 24/7 for both Rovers. I do that you know every once in a while for each rover and so um for the most part, it should be manageable I hope. We'll see how Mars time goes, but we just had a meeting today where it sounds like we won't necessarily have to be on Mars time all the time either. So we might actually be able to get some sleep as well. Well, we are certainly excited and looking forward to Mars 2020 landing. It's coming up soon now and definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk with us about some of your experiences already on rover missions and what you're looking forward to with Mars 2020. So with that, I'll say thank you and thanks to everyone who listened to our interview and if you have other questions about what's going on with the perseverance mission and how USGS Astrogeology is involved; we do have some other interviews we've conducted with our team members so you have to check those out on our page as well. And thanks everyone for watching. Thanks Ryan for your time. Yeah, bye everyone.