Planetary Scientist Steve Squyres Joins Blue Origin as Chief Scientist

Steven W. Squyres

Steve Squyres, who served as principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, is retiring from Cornell University to become chief scientist at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Cornell Chronicle reports.

“Cornell has been a wonderful place for me, as both a student and a professor. With the Mars rover missions behind us, it’s time for me to find a new challenge, but I will always be a proud Cornellian,” Squyres said.

“Scientist, scholar and space explorer, Steve transformed planetary exploration through his leadership of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers,” said Jonathan I. Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and chair of the Department of Astronomy. “Now he goes on to a new challenge, working to transform the architecture of spaceflight at one of the most innovative companies in the industry.”

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“This mission [Spirit and Opportunity] was a great teaching tool,” Squyres said earlier this year for the celebration of the mission’s 15th anniversary. “It’s easy to think of science as a static body of knowledge that you learn from a textbook. It is not. We know more about Mars today than we knew two days ago. For years I’ve started each lecture with, ‘Here’s something that just came down from Mars.’”

“Steve has inspired countless students and colleagues over his decades at Cornell,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of astronomy. “He brought Mars to campus and gave us all a chance to see another world close-up. His infectious enthusiasm for exploration will continue to stimulate planetary scientists at Cornell for years to come. We wish him all the best.”

NASA landed Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in January 2004 on nominal 90-day missions. Spirit last communicated with controllers on May 25, 2011 after more than seven years on the surface. Opportunity last communicated on June 10, 2018 as a dust storm engulfed the rover.

NASA’s Record-Setting Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust stormblanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

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The Martian Garden Recreates Red Planet’s Surface

The Martian Garden sells gardening kits including soil that NASA has determined is chemically and mineralogically similar to the surface of Mars. (Credits: The Martian Garden)

AUSTIN, Texas (NASA PR) — If you were stranded on Mars, could you pull a Mark Watney from the book and movie “The Martian” and grow your food? Thanks to a new garden kit that mimics the soil conditions on the Red Planet, you can find out.

But the kit isn’t just for fun — it’s based on research NASA has been doing for more than 30 years, both to determine just what makes up the dirt on Earth’s next-door neighbor and to find equivalents here on the ground.

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NASA Will Stop Trying to Free Spirit Rover

This view from the front hazard-avoidance camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the position of Spirit's front wheels following a backward drive during the 2,154th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (Jan. 23, 2010). The view is toward the north. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This view from the front hazard-avoidance camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the position of Spirit's front wheels following a backward drive during the 2,154th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (Jan. 23, 2010). The view is toward the north. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After 10 months of effort, NASA has given up on trying to free Spirit from the sand trap that it drove into on Mars. The space agency has declared the rover – which has been on Mars for six years – as a “stationary science platform.”

I know it’s probably disappointment, but the rover will still conduct valuable science. Six years is an amazing time to be on Mars. For anyone feeling a bit sad, this video might lighten the mood a bit. Hey, it can happen to anyone!

The full press release is after the break.
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Spirit Celebrates Six Years on Mars With Uncertain Future

Spirit attempted to turn all six wheels on Sol 2126 (Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009) to extricate itself from the sand trap known as "Troy," but stopped earlier than expected because of excessive sinkage. Telemetry indicates that the rover moved forward 3 millimeters (0.12 inch), left 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) and down (sinkage) 6 millimeters (0.24 inch). The right-front and right-rear wheels did not move. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Spirit attempted to turn all six wheels on Sol 2126 (Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009) to extricate itself from the sand trap known as "Troy," but stopped earlier than expected because of excessive sinkage. Telemetry indicates that the rover moved forward 3 millimeters (0.12 inch), left 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) and down (sinkage) 6 millimeters (0.24 inch). The right-front and right-rear wheels did not move. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA PRESS RELEASE

NASA’s Mars rover Spirit will mark six years of unprecedented science exploration and inspiration for the American public on Sunday. However, the upcoming Martian winter could end the roving career of the beloved, scrappy robot.

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Happy Fifth Birthdays to Spirit and Opportunity on Mars

NASA MISSION UPDATE

NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity may still have big achievements ahead as they approach the fifth anniversaries of their memorable landings on Mars.

Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2004, when Spirit landed safely, and 21 days later when Opportunity followed suit, none predicted the team would still be operating both rovers in 2009.

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Carnival of Space 47: Artificial Gravity in Orbit, Rovers on Mars, and Life on Titan

The Martian Chronicles blog is hosting Carnival of Space 47, a collection of links to articles on a variety of space topics. The stories include:

  • An article by Darnell Clayton at Colony Worlds speculating about whether Bigelow Aerospace could alter the design of its planned space station to accommodate artificial gravity;
  • Animation of NASA’s Spirit rover scurrying around on the surface of Mars;
  • A summary of the science that would have been lost had NASA gone ahead with budget cuts in the Spirit and Opportunity programs;
  • Paul Gilster’s musings about possible life in an ocean below Titan’s frozen surface.











Stern Out, Weiler in at NASA Science Directorate; Mather Will Reportedly Leave

NASA’s Science group has seen an abrupt turnover in its top leadership. S. Alan Stern, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, announced his resignation on Wednesday. John Mather, the directorate’s chief scientist, is also reported to be heading back to his full-time position on the James Webb Space Telescope program.

“Alan has rendered invaluable service to NASA as the Principal Investigator for the Pluto/New Horizons mission, as a member of the NASA Advisory Council, and as the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate,” Administrator Mike Griffin said in a statement. “While I deeply regret his decision to leave NASA, I understand his reasons for doing so, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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NASA: Tight Budget + Cost Overuns = Big Trouble

With its budget just keeping up with inflation and large costs overruns on key programs, NASA is facing some tough decisions. A roundup of news stories below:

Major NASA projects over budget
USA Today

Two-thirds of the agency’s new programs are over-budget or behind schedule.

“NASA’s nearly stagnant budget requires the agency to cut projects to make up for unexpected expenses, and cost overruns nearly shut down one of the rovers on Mars — until it got a reprieve Tuesday. They also threaten completion of a climate-change satellite called Glory,” the paper reports.

Mars Rovers Survive NASA’s Budget Crunch
Washington Post

NASA has rescinded a letter ordering the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make deep cuts in the operating budgets of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that are exploring Mars.

NASA holds off on budget cuts to Mars rover program
Los Angeles Times

“An order to trim $16 million from the popular missions is withdrawn. But even bigger reductions might be called for later,” the paper reports.

NASA has blamed James Green, head of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, for not properly clearing his letter to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with Administrator Mike Griffin.











Mars Rover Update

NASA has apparently given a reprieve to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The Associated Press reports:

“NASA has no plans to turn off either of the healthy twin Mars rovers to make up for cost overruns faced by a big new rover slated to fly to the Red Planet next year, the space agency said.

“In a rare move, NASA said it rescinded a letter sent last week to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that directed budget cuts to the Mars exploration program, including a $4 million reduction from the rovers project.”

Read the full story.











NASA Orders Deep Cuts in Spirit and Opportunity Rover Budget

Space.com is reporting that NASA has ordered a 40 percent cut in the operating budgets for the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers over the next 18 months. The change involves a $4 million cut in the remaining FY 2008 budget and an $8 million reduction for FY 2009. It costs about $20 million annually to operate the two rovers.

NASA officials said there are no plans to “cancel” the mission of the two Mars Exploration Rovers, which have been on the Martian surface since 2004. An official told CNN that the cuts were being made to help balance overruns in the Mars Science Laboratory, which is set for launch next year. All three missions are managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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