Starry-eyed surprise

SKC professor tells of Curiosity's findings on Mars

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Many people remember Salish Kootenai College’s contributions the 2012 Mars Curiosity rover mission and the Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars. Now, nearly a year and a half later, scientists across the nation are still using the Space Age technology to study our neighboring planet.

SKC professor Tim Olson has been involved with the project for almost a decade. During last week’s visit from Rep. Steve Daines, Olson explained that the main scientific discovery the team has made thus far is that long ago Mars was more Earth-like.

“Our big science result is we have found really strong evidence that early in Mars’ history it was much more Earth-like,” Olson said. “There was a lake at the floor of this crater and a river that came flowing down off the crater walls carrying water down. The chemistry of the water was such that probably if there were humans there, they could have drank the water.”

Olson said the water was benign and would have been very conducive for microorganisms to grow.

Throughout the last five or six years, Olson said there have been over half a dozen SKC students who have worked on the project, including current student Noel Stewart who accompanied Olson to California to work on the project for three months last year.

While the Mars mission is far from over, Olson and his students are working on another NASA funded project. The team of nine students and four faculty mentors are creating a CubeSat to send up into orbit by this time next year. CubeSats are small satellites in the shape of a cube 10 centimeters on a side that universities, government agencies, and private businesses utilize for low-cost access to Earth orbit. NASA has selected SKC’s BisonSat to launch in December of 2014.

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