At Western Washington University, students have the rare opportunity to be part of active NASA space exploration missions. In the Western Mars Lab, which was established by Prof. Melissa Rice in 2014, undergraduate and graduate students collaborate on two Mars rover missions: the Curiosity rover, which is actively exploring Mars, and the Perseverance rover, which launched on July 30, 2020 and landed on Mars February 18, 2021.
Students in the Western Mars Lab come from a variety of fields (including geology, geophysics, physics, engineering, computer science and chemistry) and work with the NASA teams to test spacecraft instruments, help operate the rovers, and analyze the data from Mars. Recent Mars Lab alumni are now operating spacecraft at Malin Space Science Systems, designing and building spacecraft components at engineering startups, and studying planetary science in Ph.D. programs at institutions such as Purdue University and the California Institute of Technology.
The Mars Lab needs support in order to create more opportunities for WWU students to pursue their passion for space exploration and planetary science. Your gift to this fund can help with:
1) Technology for the lab to connect students with NASA:
While the Perseverance rover travels to the Red Planet, the Mars Lab will be getting ready to participate in remotely in NASA mission operations from the WWU campus. Upgraded computing facilities will be needed in order to teleconference with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including high-performance workstations, screens and specialized software.
2) Research funding for students:
With additional support, the Mars Lab can create more opportunities for students to participate in research activities during the summer months and/or during the academic year. Support can also help more students travel to present their research at national conferences, participate in NASA Mars rover team meetings, attend training workshops on specialized research skills.
3) Outreach and general program support:
Students from the Mars Lab and Prof. Rice frequently visit schools, museums, and libraries to share the excitement of space exploration with kids and diverse audiences. Additional support can help increase the frequency and expand the reach of these outreach events, as well as help maintain the Mars Lab’s planetary spectroscopy facility and other operations.
We hope you will consider a donation today!
In January 2020, the Western Mars Lab traveled to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA to meet other scientists working on the Perseverance mission and to set eyes on the rover in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility before it would begin its journey to Mars. Back row from left to right: Cory Hughes ‘20, Sam Condon ‘21, Isabella Seppi ‘20, Darian Dixon ‘18, Mason Starr ‘19, Melissa Rice, Jess Mollerup ‘20. Front row from left to right: Kristiana Lapo ‘20, Katherine Winchell ’17, Tina Seeger ‘20, Amanda Rudolph ‘18.
"A hum of excitement fills the air as I follow the other members of our research team into a narrow, white hallway lined with large bay windows. As we crowd into the small room, I peer out at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility below us. I watch as a dozen or so engineers, all dressed in identical white “bunny suits,” shuffle around the clean room. From my bird’s-eye view in the High Bay, it looks like a choreographed dance. I stand there mesmerized as the team meticulously unfurls a giant sheet of silver and drapes it over the Perseverance rover’s cruise stage. Suddenly, it all feels so real. We are once again sending a robot to another planet."
-Jess Mollerup, WWU Student
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Rice’s work you can visit https://wp.wwu.edu/mars/
Details about the Perseverance rover mission are available on the NASA website https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
You can learn more about how the Mars Lab has been preparing for the Perseverance rover mission in these Planetary Society articles written by WWU students: