ASU astronomer part of crew posting Mars photos

August 06, 2012

Images from “Curiosity,” the latest Mars rover, have been beaming back to Earth since its landing Sunday night. Jim Bell is an astronomer with the ASU School Earth and Space Exploration. He’s part of the team responsible for getting those pictures back to Earth. KJZZ’s Al Macias spoke to Bell about what he’s seen and what he hopes to learn.

AL MACIAS: Bell says his team will be assembling thousands of images over the next few days into a video that will show the descent of Curiosity onto the surface of the planet. He says there are hundreds of people involved in the mission, including others from Tempe.
JIM BELL: Other ASU folks are involved in the teams that are studying the chemistry of the service, looking at the instruments that will take these samples that we drill into and insert into the spectrometer, inside the rover.

MACIAS: Bell says Curiosity will add to the knowledge that other Mars rovers have produced. He says robots and machines can do a lot but ultimately there are some questions that will require human exploration.

BELL: You know the kind of deeper questions about why and how. The forensic work that geologists do out in the field on Earth. We don’t know how to program that on a robot, and I don’t see that day coming soon, and so people have to do that.
MACIAS: Bell says commands from Earth take minutes to travel the millions of miles to the spacecraft on Mars. He says when Curiosity began its descent onto the Martian surface controllers could only wait.

BELL: At the speed of light, Mars was 14 minutes away. So there was nothing we could do about it but try not to pass out or throw up.

MACIAS: Bell says now that Curiosity has landed the next step will be to begin plotting out its exploration of Mars.