Researchers at the school will examine the results of tests done on the surface of Mars by a NASA rover set to blast off next week.
“Science at Delaware State will be out of this world,” says DSU Provost Dr. Alton Thompson during a briefing about the mission held at the school on Friday. NASA’s Curiosity rover is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral on November 25 for a trip to Mars that should end in the beginning of August.
That launch will be closely watched by the director of DSU’s Optics Program, Dr. Noureddine Melikechi. His team will help NASA analyze the Martian surface deeper than has ever been done before. “For the first time ever as humans, we’re going to have spectra and images not only of the surface of Mars like previous missions. We actually can dig inside with a laser. You can dig inside these rocks and see what’s going on.”
The results of the laser tests on Mars will be transmitted back to Earth and eventually DSU’s Dover campus. That’s where optics research assistant Alissa Mezzacappa will help analyze the data. She’s excited about the opportunity to do research no one has ever done before. “It’s going to be able to see elements that we’ve never seen before on Mars, because past instruments didn’t have the capabilities to see it.”
The ultimate mission of Curiosity is the search for life. Melikechi says the mission will try to answer the questions, “Was there ever life on Mars? Is it possible to have life on Mars? Is it habitable?”
Governor Markell couldn’t make the briefing, but did send a tongue-in-cheek tribute for the event, naming Dr. Melikechi as Delaware’s ambassador to Mars. He also sent along a note, urging the newly-minted ambassador to encourage any life they discover on Mars to consider visiting Delaware. Chairman of DSU’s Board of Trustees Dr. Claibourne Smith read the note from the Governor, “We would very much appreciate it if you would let any Martian tourist or investors know that Delaware is conveniently located on the East Coast, with a great port, strong community, excellent workforce, and top-notch research facilities.”