Chris Herd might not be going to the Red Planet himself but he’ll play a key role in NASA’s Mars 2020 rover project slated to launch this summer.
Herd, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, has been chosen to analyze rock samples collected and stored with the intention of bringing them back to Earth through future missions to Mars.
“It was around the age of 13 that I wanted to work on rocks from Mars,” said Herd. “I wanted to be there when the rocks came back so for me to be chosen to be involved in a big mission and NASA’s next big mission to Mars, and the fact that it’s going to be collecting samples that will eventually come back to Earth, that really is the most exciting thing.”
The project marks the first time Martian meteorite and rock will be collected and stored. The hope is that the samples will provide key information about the planet’s geological history.
“We think that Mars may have had the conditions right for life at one point … especially the rocks that we’re going to look at,” said Herd. “So eventually the idea is to bring these samples back and really pour over them and tell us whether these actually have evidence for ancient life in them or not.”
Herd is one of 10 experts and the only Canadian selected by NASA for the project.