ALEX HAYES: The main goal of Mars 2020 is to understand the area around this landing site at Jezero Crater, and identify what the most important samples are to bring back to earth for study to understand whether Mars was habitable. And what makes Jezero unique is it has this extensive delta system, or remnants of an ancient delta on it. And by looking at this delta, we're hoping to learn how long had that area had liquid water in it, how long was the delta, was the liquid water present that created that delta as the rivers came in. And that's where being able to look both at the exposed layering with the cameras as well as what's underneath, what we see at the surface with the radar, can particularly give us a lot of information about that environment.
I am the Mastcam-Z team. The Mastcam-Z are the stereo cameras that are the eyes of the Rover, and their primary objective is to obtain images of the landing site, create 3D models of the landing site, and do so in multiple wavelength bands to tell us something about the composition of the material, and use all that information to discern what processes led to the development of the area around Jezero Crater. We also have important science tools on Mastcam-Z at least to support Rover tactical operations by providing those high resolution 3D models to help the Rover driving and planning of where we're going to go next.
MEGAN BARRINGTON: The first way that I really thought to dig my heels into the mission was by doing analog field work. And we did that with a camera that we have at Cornell called MASI, which stands for Mastcam-Z Analog Spectral Imager. And MASI is a camera that was built to emulate Mastcam-Z as closely as possible using off the shelf components. Well, I would take the camera to different field locations that served as analog sites to the Mars landing site, Jezero Crater. So I was able to participate in calibrating the flight spare model as well as the actual models that are going on the Rover that are attached currently to the Rover, and are on the rocket and ready to be delivered.
ALEX HAYES: We will be documenting how the helicopter flies as much as possible with the instrumentation on the Rover. And the idea is that if the helicopter is successful, it will be able to survey the terrain in the area that the Rover is currently sitting to determine the best paths forward, and see around the rock outcrop that's blocking our view of the alien parking lot that's just on the other side. Cornell itself has been very heavily involved in every Rover mission sent to the red planet to date.
And I actually got into the field because of Steve Squyres and the Mars Exploration Rovers that were run out of Cornell. Cornell undergraduates have played a strong role in all of these missions. These missions provide opportunities for undergraduates to get research experience on these active missions. It is a special thing that Cornell does, but not all universities provide the ability to do.
MEGAN BARRINGTON: There would be no greater joy for me than to be one of the first people to be able to analyze a martian rock sample. So that is absolutely something I would love to participate in. In the meantime, I have to do multi-spectral analysis and have eyes on it from the Rover's perspective. But when those samples come back, you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to be a project scientist on that.
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NASA's Mars 2020 mission will collect rock and soil samples for future joint NASA/European Space Agency missions to ferry back to Earth. Cornell scientists will be actively involved including Alex Hayes, associate professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences.