Exploring the Solar System with the Power of Technology
TimeTuesday, 19 November 20198:30am - 10am
DescriptionBetween 2004 and 2018, mankind spent more than 5,600 cumulative days exploring Mars—yet the Principal Investigator on those missions never needed a spacesuit.
That’s because Spirit and Opportunity, NASA’s two Mars rovers, were guided by the computing power that made it possible for Dr. Steven Squyres to oversee their findings from as much as 250 million miles away.
While he is best known to the public as the “face and voice” who chronicled Spirit and Opportunity’s extended missions—each of which lasted years beyond initial expectations—Dr. Squyres played his most mission-critical role behind the scenes, helping guide the project science as the two rovers examined the terrain of Mars for signs of water or life.
This year NASA celebrates a half-century since Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, using onboard computers that were famously advanced for their time, and just as famously rudimentary compared to the devices most people carry in their pockets today. Unlike the Apollo technology, the Mars rovers had no humans to operate them in person, and even radio commands could take as long as 24 minutes to travel from the Earth. The need for the rovers to carry out complex procedures and navigate unforgiving terrain meant their reliance on computers and software was central to their mission success.