UNLV geoscience professor Elisabeth "Libby" Hausrath has been selected as one of just 10 returned sample science participating scientists for NASA’s highly anticipated Mars 2020 mission.
As part of the Mars 2020 sample return program, Hausrath will help select and cache Martian rock, soils, and related samples for return to Earth.
“These samples, which will be the first samples from Mars ever to be returned to Earth, have the capacity to fundamentally transform our understanding of that planet,” Hausrath said. “It has been such a privilege to be able to work with Mars data in my career, and I am so excited now to be able to help select samples for scientists to work with in the future.”
In selecting the samples, the scientists will need to anticipate the current and future needs of researchers who will analyze the samples for a diverse range of studies in Earth-based laboratories.
Hausrath’s research program at UNLV is focused on understanding chemical weathering and soil formation on Earth and on Mars. Her previous work related to Mars includes interpreting data from the NASA’s Mars Exploration Program to investigate how soil and water might have once interacted on the surface of our solar system’s most Earthlike neighbor. She also studies transitions in clay-mineral chemistry to better interpret the potential habitability and biosignature preservation of clay-mineral-containing Martian environments.
Prior to this appointment, Hausrath was one of 13 scientists NASA chose to serve on the Returned Sample Science Board to offer scientific input into the design and implementation of the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission.
Additional work by the participating scientists will be to use the rover’s instruments to characterize the geology of the landing site and its past habitability and potential for preservation of biosignatures. They also will prepare detailed "field notes" that document both the geologic context and the rationale used for sample selection for return of samples to Earth.
Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch in July or August of 2020, and land in February 2021.
Hausrath will participate in science team meetings and training events leading up to the Mars 2020 launch and after landing through the prime mission, which is anticipated to last until June 2023.