Google Tech Talk
December 6, 2012
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Presented by Dr. Michael A. Meyer.
The possibility of life on Mars has become a scientific issue of profound importance, a topic of public interest, and a question that research and space exploration can address. Although Viking landings on Mars in 1976 found a cold and dry planet, our concepts of the limits to life and our expectation of the habitability of Mars have continued to expand. The modern era of Mars exploration has transformed our imagined static lifeless desert planet to a dynamic planet, one that has the potential for life in the past and possibly even the present. Our exploration endeavors have culminated with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landing on August 6, 2012. This mission is the first roving analytical laboratory and considered the first astrobiology mission to Mars since Viking. The rover has ten instruments, including environmental sensors and a laboratory capable of determining elemental composition, mineralogy, and organic content of surface and near-surface samples. This mission has begun to explore Gale Crater, and its 5 km high central peak, Mount Sharp, whose sediments will provide snapshots of environmental conditions of Mars as it transitioned from its earlier warmer and wetter periods through to a planet whose surface has became cold, dry, and acidic. Hopefully results from the mission will help us determine if that area was ever able to support microbial life and assess its potential for preservation of biosignatures. Already, the science team has discovered an ancient riverbed and the heavy-isotopic ratios of a remnant thicker atmosphere. This mission is the most complex, sophisticated robotic planetary mission ever attempted and a major step in Mars exploration.
Dr. Michael A. Meyer
Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program
Michael Meyer is a Senior Scientist at NASA Headquarters in the Science Mission Directorate. He is the Lead Scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, responsible for the science content of current and future Mars missions, and Program Scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission. During this period, Dr. Meyer has also served as the science liaison for the Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation). In 2009, Dr. Meyer was awarded Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Professional Service.
Meyer was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and Program Scientist for the Mars Odyssey mission that was launched in 2001 and is still orbiting Mars. The Astrobiology Program, started in 1997 with Dr. Meyer as the Discipline Scientist, is dedicated to the study of the life in the universe. Since 1993, Dr. Meyer managed NASA's Exobiology Program and from 1994 to 1997, Dr. Meyer was also the Planetary Protection Officer for NASA, responsible for mission compliance to NASA's policy concerning forward and back contamination during planetary exploration. Dr. Meyer was the Program Scientist for the Mars Microprobe mission (DS-2) and for two Phase I Shuttle/Mir experiments. Meyer was detailed from the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, where he was an assistant research professor from 1989-97. From 1985 to 1989, he served as associate director and associate in research for the Polar Desert Research Center, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University. In 1982, he was a visiting research scientist at the Culture Centre for Algae and Protozoa in Cambridge, England.
Dr. Meyer's primary research interest is in microorganisms living in extreme environments, particularly the physical factors controlling microbial growth and survival. He has conducted field research in the Gobi Desert, Negev Desert, Siberia, and the Canadian Arctic. He is also a veteran of six research expeditions to Antarctica, to study microbial ecosystems in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (1985/87), investigate krill- phytoplankton relations (1978/81), and research primary productivity in the Weddell Sea (1977). His experience also includes two summers working as a treasure salvager off the coasts of Florida and North Carolina.
Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in oceanography from Texas A&M University (1985 and 1981) and his B.S. in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1974).
This Google Tech Talk was hosted by Boris Debic.