Broadcast 3059 Dr. Ashwin Vasavada

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Guest:  Dr. Ashwin Vasavada; Topics:  Mars rover updates, Mars surface findings, discovery update, upcoming Martian missions, searching for life.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,   Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See

We welcomed back Dr. Ashwin Vasavada to the show for an MSL and Curiosity comprehensive update.  During the first part of our 90 minute two segment program, we talked about the Curiosity rover, its status after nearly six years of operation and the few equipment issues experienced by the rover.  The equipment problem most focused on was the drill.  The motor that actually worked the drill quit working, they spent time attempting to get it going again but were unsuccessful.  They then figured out a workaround for drilling which is about to be tried for the first time.  Our guest explained the challenges and the new drilling methodology in some detail so don't miss what he had to say.  I also asked how they resolved the rover wheel problems from about a year after landing on the Martian surface. 

Our guest spent a good portion of the first segment talking about the rover's 1,000 foot climb to date in Gale Crater, the series of ancient lake findings and more.  We also talked about finding traces of elements that would be deemed essential for life but even with those markers, there were no biosignatures to actually enable a past life confirmation on Mars.  We talked more about this at the top of the second segment.  Our guest did say that Mars 2020 would be better equipped to search for biomarkers as that was not part of the Curiosity scientific mission.  The first segment discussion on ancient water and lake beds was fascinating, don't miss it. 

Our first caller was Marshall the Okie from Renfrow (I can take liberty with him being an Okie as I'm an Okie from Tulsa).  Marshall wanted to comment on the long life span for the rovers compared to what it used to be.  He wanted to know if conservative engineering was behind the longer lasting rovers or was there a secret sauce that coated the rovers before the flight to Mars.  Marshall and Ashwin had an interesting conversation about learning how to build better and longer lasting rovers through experience and yes, some elements of conservative engineering.  Marshall's next question focused on Martian dust as compared to lunar dust.

After the first caller, I asked Ashwin about the most impressive discoveries over the years for Curiosity.  Don't miss what he had to say in response to this question.  You might be surprised by what you hear.  Since so much of what we had been talking about so far dealt with lakes, I asked our guest if the lakes were 100% fresh water.  He said yes but as they climbed higher up Gale Crater, there traces of lakes and water became more salty.  Listen to his explanation for this.  Ashwin then took a listener email question from Paul wanting to know where the water went and why.  Ashwin had much to say in response to Paul's question so don't miss it.  It was  a comprehensive answer involving the cooling of Mars, the loss of the Mars magnetic field, changes in the atmosphere and more.

June from Denver asked a question about the true color of Mars and why NASA colored the Martian images  Again, you do not want to miss this discussion.  Ashwin explained why the images were colored, the intention behind doing so, the true color of Mars which was sort of a pinking and sometimes yellowish-brown color, plus he was asked about showing Mars with a blue sky.  To get the answers to all of this image coloring, listen to our guest explain it.  Let us know what you think by posting your thoughts on the blog for this program.  This topic led to a discussion about the red rocks on Mars, iron oxidation and my asking if this was the same process that caused the red rocks and pink sand in parts of our west, specifically Utah and Northern Arizona.  The simple answer was yes.

We fielded two more listener questions before the break.  Randy wanted to know if studying Mars and looking for life on Mars was useful and applicable for the other planets in the solar system.  Tim then called from Huntsville to ask about the mini NASA Kilopower nuclear reactors that were being developed.  Our guest was not too familiar with the reactors but did comment on Mars as a useful study tool for other planets in the solar system.

In the second segment, we started off talking about the need to find biosignatures to confirm life on Mars or anyplace for that matter.  Our guest spent some time explaining biosignatures so don't miss what he had to say.  In addition, he said that despite finding important elements needed for life, these elements could have come to Mars from sources other than life sources.  He said so far no biomarkers had been found on Mars for that matter anyplace else in space.  I suggested methane as a good example of what he was talking about and he confirmed that as an excellent example.

Bill from Ft. Worth brought up the issue of are there fossils on Mars.  We had quite the discussion on this topic, expanding it beyond Bill's question. You will want to hear what our guest had to say on the general topic of fossils on Mars and to the specifics of some of the follow up questions.  Our guest then got a question asking why a mission to explore the Cydonia region of Mars was not planned given taxpayers want it and NASA uses taxpayer money for the Mars program.  This opened up a discussion about democracy and planning science missions, scientists, who are also tax payers, as opposed to the general public who are also tax payers, and how missions are selected and planned.  As you will hear, there might be democracy on mission selection within the scientific community but certainly not in terms of including the general public.  He said the scientific community had not seen the Cydonia region as a priority area of interest.  I suggested NASA take a poll of taxpayers and ask them where they want to see NASA science missions explore on Mars.  Maybe such polls have been done in the past but I am not aware of them.  While I know from my position with The Space Show that many people want to explore the Cydonia region, I suspect it would not top out in the top ten places were such an "honest" poll conducted.  One thing Ashwin said was that with a more robust and capable private sector and lower transportation costs, perhaps a private exploratory mission to Cydonia would be undertaken in the not too distant future. 

Before the program ended, Joshua from Salt Lake City asked why the Martian moons were not being explored.  Don't miss the most interesting response given by our guest.  Before we ended the program, I asked Ashwin for his personal thoughts on finding at least signs of past life on Mars.  If you are interested in the personal thoughts of our guest on this subject, listen to what he had to say in response to my question.  The final topic was about a seismometer on an upcoming mission, plus our guest talked briefly about the Insight mission and Mars 2020.  I told him about my earthquake app for my IPhone and asked if we could get a similar Mars quake app to let us know each time there was a Mars quake, where and at what intensity.  He then mentioned that Mars quakes are different than what we have on Earth because Mars has no plate tectonics which we discussed for a few minutes.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this show.  You can reach Dr. Vasavada through his JPL website or me.




Mars rover updates, surface features, possible fossils

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06 Feb 2018 Dr. Ashwin Vasavada
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