Delaware researchers await data from Mars

After a few anxious minutes and a sleepless night, scientists at Delaware State University are eagerly awaiting the first results from NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

The one-ton rover arrived on Mars at 1:31 a.m. Monday nearly nine moths after leaving Earth.  Now, Dr. Noureddine Melikechi and his team at Delaware State are waiting for all instruments on the rover to be tested to make sure they are functioning following the 154-million mile journey.

“This is a new lab.  The planet Mars is now a laboratory for us,” Melikechi says.  “For the first time, we’ll be able to at least explore the possibility of whether Mars was or is habitable.”  He says the rover landing represents a big leap in NASA’s technical ability over the past decade.  “In 1999, the probability of doing that was close to zero.”

The Del. State team will be examining what happens when Curiosity fires its laser at rocks on Mars.  As the laser hits the rock, a camera on board the rover will beam video images back to Earth.  Researchers will then analyze the first few microseconds of that video in an effort to determine what the rocks are made of.  “Now that we’ve landed, the science begins,” Melikechi says.

The University’s role in the Mars program is a big source of pride for school leaders.  “Delaware State has taken center stage, in this nation, in this world, and in the solar system,” says DSU Provost Alton Thompson.  “Delaware State University is etched in the scientific history of this nation.”

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