Exploring Mars With An Astrobiology Droid During Difficult Times On Earth

By Keith Cowing
Keith Cowing
July 30, 2020
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Exploring Mars With An Astrobiology Droid During Difficult Times On Earth
Astrobiology Droid Perseverance On Mars

NASA Launched the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance today. As Perseverance departs it leaves a troubled world behind to explore a new one in search of life. At the Perseverance post-launch media event I asked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen about exploring a new world during such difficult times.

I asked: “Right now the nation is in the midst of a pandemic nightmare that is not going to end any time soon, It is going to be a dark, scary winter. 328 million Americans are going to be staring at their computers and TVs as will billions around the world. NASA is sending an Astrobiology droid to Mars to look for evidence of life. It may discover that we are not alone. How cool is that. It has been nearly half a century since the Viking landers attempted much the same task. The world could use some good news now. How is NASA going to involve the world in a way that speaks to the way we are all isolated – yet still connected? How will NASA make the Perseverance mission a bright light amidst an otherwise gloomy winter?”

Bridenstine said: “That is an important question. I think the key word that you used there is the word Astrobiology … its very apparent that we have water in the solar system and there are places in our own solar system that could in fact be habitable – in the ancient past – but even today. And so I think that putting together these kinds of missions that not only inspire the next generation but also inspire those of us who are in the middle of our career – or even retired. These are the kinds of things that NASA can do during difficult times and we’re excited about it.”

Zurbuchen said: “I really appreciate that question, Keith. You talk about this as a ‘bright light’. I belive that so much. From the beginning the Administrator and I talked about it – in those words pretty much. And it is great to hear it from you also. You talked about how we are communicating with so many people and the one thing that we share here – I know that I speak for my friends here on this panel – is that we really want to aspire to open up the communication in a more broad fashion to more people to talk about the excitement of STEM research – the excitement of space research – the opportunities that come from that. It is exciting and it is also good for the world. And so for us, the way that we are doing that of course – as we innovate new missions we try to innovate new communications.

I just want to tell you that one of the things that made me very proud today is the communication efforts that were set up during the entire week. This team at headquarters led by Jim and his core group – Paul – on of yoru people there – I think this was an amazing job really telling the story more broadly. Yes, its a launch. But its the ‘bright light’ we are talking about. Yes, its a mission, but we are talking about transformative science – transformative exploration that goes beyond robotic exploration. We think of this as a constant challenge – just like the missions need to be reinvented as we go – because we do new things.

We also need to reinvent communication. I think that the social media efforts that NASA has are second to none but we should not sit still. We always want to go beyond that. We want to go to schools that have not heard that because in that school room – perhaps in a place where none of us has ever been – is that kid whose life is changing because she sees for the first time that she too could be part of this amazing thing – or something that is exciting to her – which is just as big. So I really appreciate the question, Keith. Yes, it is exciting what we are doing here with the communication – and how we talk about it is also really relevant. And I think we understand that and we al so recognize that we need to – as we go forward – learn and evolve.”

Press conference video

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻