NASA historian Erik Conway to speak on missions to Mars

  • Sat Feb 24th, 2018 1:30am
  • Life

Planetary scientists have sought to collect and examine rock samples from Mars since the beginning of the space age over 50 years ago. They did so even before that using rocks blasted off the red planet by meteor impacts.

But these ancient artifacts, usually collected in Antarctica, are insufficient. They are random samples devoid of geological context and thus cannot address important scientific questions. So planetary scientists have endeavored instead to examine rock samples on the surface of Mars, making the research a challenging engineering problem.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory historian Erik M. Conway will discuss this challenge in an Orcas Currents lecture titled “Dreaming about Rocks from the Red Planet.” In this talk, which begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 4, at the Episcopal Parish Hall, he will highlight the science and engineering of Mars rover missions, including a planned sample-return mission.

Conway works as a historian of science and technology at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He studies the history of space exploration and examines the intersections of space science, earth science and technological change. With Naomi Oreskes, he is the coauthor of the bestselling book on climate-change denial, “Merchants of Doubt,” for which they won the History of Science Society’s Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize in 2012.

Conway is the author of four other books, including his latest, “Exploration and Engineering: JPL and the Quest for Mars.” In 2017, he won the prestigious Athelstan Spilhaus Award of the American Geophysical Union for his many contributions to public engagement with earth and space sciences.

This Orcas Currents event, the first in our 2018 season, is cosponsored by Janet Alderton. As always, admission is free, but donations are welcome at the door.