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Siena College professor helps with Mars rover mission

Emily De Vito
Updated: July 30, 2020 04:57 PM
Created: July 30, 2020 12:15 PM

NASA's newest Mars 2020 rover called "Perseverance" launched Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The $2.4 billion rover is expected to land on Mars in February.

Thomas Coohill is a Professor of physics and astronomy at Siena College. He was one of a handful of scientists who served on the mission's sterilization team.

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"Seeing it get off into space was a great feeling," said Coohill.

Over the past year, he has traveled to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to work with a team. The goal of this mission is to bring samples from Mars back to earth. Coohill worked on a team that will help ensure the samples remain intact and do not contaminate our planet when they return.

"I was asked to be a UV expert on the project because the Mars surface has a lot more UV than earth," explained Coohill. "They don't have an ozone layer. In fact, they have hardly any atmosphere."

Coohill is working to keep what's called "the OS" extremely sterile. It will be sent to Mars in the next five or six years after the rover collects those soil samples.

"You're going to have the fetch rover go out and bring the samples back to the Oz," said Coohill. "Load them into that OS and it'll be a sphere about the size of a basketball that'll be put it into the rocket. The rocket launches once it gets to orbit, the earth return vehicle scoops it up."

If all goes according to plan, the samples should arrive by crash landing in Utah in 2031. It will be the first time we brought samples back from another planet. The only place we have brought them back from is the moon.

Coohill said he hopes to see them get here. They are looking to see if there're any fossils on Mars, a sign of life once being there.

"I'd like to be around and who knows that's hard to live to be 90, but if it happens, it happens," said Coohill.


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