Lessons from a 15-year Mars rover mission

Steve Squyres
Planetary scientist Steve Squyres, who headed the science team for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers and now serves as Blue Origin’s chief scientist, demonstrates how the rovers were parked on slanted slopes to soak up maximum solar energy during the Martian winter. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For 15 years, planetary scientist Steve Squyres’ life revolved around Mars, with good reason. He was the principal investigator for one of the longest-running NASA missions on the surface of another world, executed by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

If anyone has a sense of the lay of the land on the Red Planet, it’d be Squyres. So what does he think of the idea of setting up permanent cities on Mars?

“My take on this one is no, I don’t think so,” Squyres said here today at Penn State University during the ScienceWriters 2019 conference.

He’s not opposed to sending people to Mars. Far from it. “Human research base? Absolutely, as soon as possible,” Squyres said. It’s even possible that super-rich tourists will want to travel to Mars and back, he said.

But based on the problems that Spirit and Opportunity encountered during their longer-than-anticipated operating life on the Red Planet, plus Squyres’ experience as a researcher in Antarctica and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, he isn’t convinced that Mars can ever be a place to raise a family.

“Antarctica is international territory,” he said. “If you want to build a home, if you want to go homesteading, set up shop, build a community, build a town, nobody’s going to stop you. … And yet, nobody does it. Why? Antarctica is a terrible place, it really is. And Mars is just so much worse.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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