UT professors helping to lead mission to Mars

UT professors helping to lead mission to Mars

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By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Scientists across the country won't be getting much sleep Sunday night waiting to see if the Mars rover Curiosity will have a successful landing on the red planet. Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral back in November.

UT planetary science professor Dr. Jeffrey Moersch has been dreaming about going to Mars since he was a boy.

"It's the next step for the human race," he said.

Next week, he'll come as close as any human ever has.

"In a lot of ways it feels like you're there," Moersch said. "We look at all the data, we figure out what it's discovered, what is sees, and we decide where we're going to drive the rover to next, what measurements we're going to take and with what instruments," Moersch said.

More than 200 scientists from around the country, including Moersch and his UT colleague, Dr. Linda Kah, will be spending the next three months in California at NASA's jet propulsion lab.

"We do a lot of horse trading because the rover has limited resources, limited power, limited time and we have to figure out what are the highest priorities for the rover to execute on each day," Moersch said.

His job will be looking for hydrogen, one step in determining whether life ever was or ever could sustain itself on Mars.

"It's an insurance policy. For the last 50 years, humanity has had the capability of destroying itself with nuclear weapons. If we can spread things out so it's not all the eggs in one basket, that makes us safer as a species," Moersch said.

He said space funding for the future may well ride with Curiosity.

"There's a general feeling in the community that the success or failure for the next decade of planetary exploration has a lot riding on whether this mission succeeds, so we're tense," he said.

You can watch the landing live at 1:30 a.m. Monday online or on NASA TV on your smart phone with the NASA app.

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