BRUNSWICK, Maine — Another spectacular success for NASA—landing the fifth rover on Mars.
This rover, named "Perseverance" is like a rover on steroids. It's decked out to search for life on Mars by drilling to collect samples to be analyzed on Earth in ten years or so, for any signs of ancient life, and running experiments to create breathable oxygen for future human missions.
See the first raw images from the Perseverance HERE.
One of the people who helped get the mission off the ground and onto the Red Planet is actually a Mainer. Dr. Aileen Yingst, who lives in Brunswick, is a senior scientist for the Planetary Science Institute and partners with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars rovers.
According to NASA, Yingst has contributed to Mars 2020, Mars Science Library, and Mars Rover Exploration to name a few.
In 2019, NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with Yingst when NASA lost connection to the Mars rover Opportunity, known as "Oppy" for short.
Oppy was deployed to Mars with Spirit, her twin rover, in 2004. A geologist by trade, Yingst worked 24/7 with fellow scientists and engineers, analyzing the data Oppy sent back from Mars and planning her next move.
She not only studies space rocks but designs and tests rover operations. Years of work have culminated to make the Mars rover landing possible.
"I'm so overwhelmed with the fact we are on Mars and that we are after all of the years that we planned the mission are looking at Jezero Crater from the inside," Yingst said in an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom.
The Jezero Crater is believed to have once been a lake, and therefore a likely place to find signs of any life once there.
Yingst works on the Sherlock instrument, which can take stunning close-up images examining even the tiniest grains of sand.
"All of those grains tell a story," Yingst said. "You can essentially tell the story of the world in a grain of sand."
Yingst studies the shape of rocks which is called morphology.
"My job is to take that information and interpret it into a story of how the Martian environment changed from one point to the next," Yingst explained, "so, how did those grains get knocked off from the rock, how did they travel to where they are?"
Perseverance will extensively study the bed of the crater which is about the size of Lake Tahoe. But the rover does have the ability to climb out of the crater.
"If you picture the Grand Canyon you have all those layers kind of stacked. Each of those layers represents a different environment, a different period of time. And the more of those layers you can look at, the farther back in time you can go, the more of the story you can tell," she said.
Yingst explained that they won't find complex fossils.
"We are talking about organic strings that suggest that life was there. We're talking about very, very subtle evidence," she said.
Yingst and her team are analyzing and making decisions in real-time, which means they are living on Martian time. A day on Mars is 24 hours and 37 minutes long, which means the workday is ever-changing. Some weeks she will be getting up at 3 a.m.—other weeks, she'll be starting work at 3 p.m.
Yingst doesn't mind at all.
"There's nothing quite like working with a group of people who are just as intensely into what you're doing," she said.
Ultimately, this is a period of discovery for Yingst.
"We're doing geology for the rest of the world, we're doing geology for the rest of humanity, and we're doing geology for the ages. We're not coming back here anytime soon, so we have to be very efficient and very wise about how we use the resources that we have," she said. "And so, that means a lot of late nights and a lot of work and I'm ready for it. This is the best job in the world."