October 07, 2010

ASU presents Shoemaker Award to NASA's MER chief scientist

Posted: October 07, 2010
Steve Squyres and Carolyn Shoemaker on stage at Arizona State University
Steve Squyres, left, the chief scientist on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission, was at ASU Oct. 7 to receive the 2010 Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award. Named for the geologist and astronomer known for pioneer research in the field of asteroid and comet impacts with his wife, Carolyn, the award is presented annually by ASU’s BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. Carolyn Shoemaker joined Squyres on stage before he delivered a lecture that was punctuated with humor and had the latest news about the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Behind them is an image of Gene Shoemaker. “Steve Squyres epitomizes the drive and inventive spirit of Gene Shoemaker,” said Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and founding director of the BEYOND Center. (Photo by Carol Hughes)
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Steve Squyres and Paul Davies at Arizona State University
Steve Squyres, left, the principal investigator for the science payload on NASA’s mars Exploration Rover mission, was invited to Arizona State University for the annual Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award and lecture. With him is Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and founding director of ASU’s BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, which presents the award. (Photo by Carol Hughes)
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7 p.m., Oct. 7, 2010, Neeb Hall

Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for the science payload on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission, will receive the 2010 Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award Oct. 7 at Arizona State University. 

The award, presented by ASU’s BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, is given annually to a leading scientist in honor of his or her life and work. It is named for Shoemaker, who is known for pioneering research with his wife, Carolyn, in the field of asteroid and comet impacts. 

As part of the honor of receiving the award, Squyres will deliver the annual Shoemaker Memorial Lecture at 7 tonight in Neeb Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus. The title of his talk is “Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet.” 

“Steve Squyres epitomizes the drive and inventive spirit of Gene Shoemaker,” said Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and founding director of the BEYOND Center. “Steve narrates a life-long adventure of exploration, endurance and wonderment in his book ‘Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet.’ He’s a masterful storyteller and no doubt will provide a rover update as part of his presentation.” 

Squyres, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University, knew Shoemaker, calling him a mentor and good friend. “I got to work with him when I was a graduate student on the Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn,” said Squyres. “In fact, I picked my thesis topic specifically because it would give me the chance to work with Gene.” 

“Gene was a field geologist at heart, and our rovers are doing field geology on Mars,” Squyres said. “One of my greatest regrets about MER is that Gene didn’t get to be part of it.” 

Fellow Mars explorer Philip Christensen, an ASU Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences, said of Squyres: “He is remarkably passionate about the exploration of space and that shows in what he does. He was the Energizer Bunny on the MER team; a first rate scientist.” Each of the rovers has an instrument designed by Christensen, the Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer (mini-TES). 

Christensen also knew Shoemaker, branding him “a one of a kind guy.” According to Christensen, Shoemaker once said that Squyres was “a rising star who was going to set the world on fire.” 

Bitten by the Mars bug

Squyres, a self-proclaimed map lover and mountain climber, had a knack for science and selected geology as his major at Cornell. It was in his junior year, while looking at stunning images of Mars from the Viking orbiters that it struck him how little he understood about what he was seeing. More importantly, how little anyone understood what was captured in the images.

 “I was exploring a new, distant and alien world ... [and knew] exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” wrote Squyres in “Roving Mars.”

Squyres received his undergraduate degree in geology and a doctoral degree in planetary science from Cornell. As a geologist, he often refers to the rovers as robot geologists. 

“The business of reading the story that rocks have to tell is the work of a geologist.... A geologist is like a detective at the scene of a crime. Something happened here long ago ... what was it? Was it warm here? Was it wet? Was it the kind of environment that would have been suitable for life?” he wrote in “Roving Mars.” 

At the time he conceived of the idea of landing on Mars, there were only orbiters circling the Red Planet. “Taking pictures from orbit didn’t feel like real exploration to me. Lewis and Clark hadn’t looked down on the Louisiana Territory from orbit,” he wrote. 

What Squyres wanted was Martian dirt on his own boots. Since he couldn’t have that, he worked with hundreds of collaborating scientists and engineers to design a 90-day Mars surface exploration mission – a mission that is still continuing, more than 2,300 sols (Martian days, each 24 hours and 39 minutes long) after an initial landing in January 2004. 

An out-of-this-world career

After receiving his doctorate, Squyres spent five years as a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center before returning to Cornell as a faculty member. His main areas of scientific interest have been Mars and the moons of the outer planets. His research focus has been the history and distribution of water on Mars, and the possible existence and habitability of a liquid water ocean on Europa. 

Along with his current work on MER, Squyres has participated in many of NASA’s planetary exploration missions, including the Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn, the Magellan mission to Venus, and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission. He is also a co-investigator on the 2003 Mars Express, 2005 Mars Reconnaissance orbiter and  2009 Mars Science Laboratory missions; a member of the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer Flight Investigation Team for the Mars Odyssey mission; and a member of the imagine team for the Cassini mission to Saturn. 

Squyres has served as chair of the NASA Space Science Advisory Committee and a member of the NASA Advisory Council. His awards include the American Astronomical Society’s Harold C. Urey Prize, Space Science Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Astronautical Society’s Carl Sagan Award; National Space Society’s Wernher von Braun Award; and Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute. He is a fellow of the America Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

The Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture is free and open to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. More information at 480-965-3240 or http://beyond.asu.edu. Online maps of ASU’s Tempe campus and parking structures at www.asu.edu/map.

 This year’s lecture is co-sponsored by the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, home to the world's largest university-based meteorite collection.

Previous recipients of the Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award are H. Jay Melosh, Walter Alvarez and Harrison Hagan Schmitt

The BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science is a pioneering international research center established in 2006 at ASU. This “cosmic think tank” is specifically dedicated to confronting the big questions raised by advances in fundamental science, and facilitating new research initiatives that transcend traditional subject categories. 

Carol Hughes, carol.hughes@asu.edu
480-965-6375
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