UWM in Waukesha: UWM planetarium director and alum explore the fascination of Mars

21 October 2021

Mars, which is the most accessible planet beyond Earth, is the next frontier in space exploration. Learning more about Mars can help us better understand our own planet and how climate and atmospheric changes can affect Earth.

It can also help us prepare for the challenges humans may face whenever we reach the Red Planet. Right now, the two Martian rovers – Perseverance and Curiosity – are exploring the surface of the planet to help scientists learn more about its history, soil and atmosphere.

Reaching Mars is not easy. NASA Lists 48 missions to Mars since 1960 by space agencies around the world, with more than half of the missions ending in failure.

On the first episode of Curious Campus, UWM’s new science, discovery and culture podcast, we take a look at the exploration of Mars with guests Jean Creighton, director of UWM’s Planetarium Manfred Olson, and Darian Dixon, a UWM alumnus who is a main operator of Mastcam-Z on the Mars rover Perseverance.

Below, Creighton and Dixon answer a few questions about Mars exploration, their research, and their work. Listen to the full show on or on your favorite podcast app.

What makes Mars so fascinating?

Jean Creighton: Mars captivates our imaginations because it is the next big frontier in terms of human space exploration. In the 1960s, the United States had the Mariner Series, which sent spacecraft into orbit around Mars. In the 1970s, the Viking series began sending imaging technology to photograph the surface and landed on Mars in 1976.

I feel an affinity with Mars because I studied infrared satellites for NASA while doing post-doctoral work at Caltech, and visited some of the “sand grounds” for Pathfinder, the first successful Martian rover.

Darian Dixon: Right now, going to Mars will be a major, albeit difficult, next step. We explore the last frontier. It is something that fills our hearts with awe and wonder. I don’t think we can put a price on it. You just have to look up and be happy to be a part of something that is much bigger than humanity.

How long will it take for humans to travel to Mars?

Darian Dixon: Important financial, logistical and scientific problems remain to be resolved. Some people see Mars as part of a simple and logical progression after going to the moon. It is not so easy. If going to the moon was a one foot high walk, the second step – getting to Mars – is a 40 foot high walk.

What are the advantages of space exploration in general?

Jean Creighton: Much of the technology common in everyday life today stems from the desire to send a human being to the moon. Some examples include the current technologies behind weather forecasting, GPS, and smartphones.

The need to miniaturize computers for space exploration in the 1960s motivated the entire industry to design computers that were smaller, faster, and more energy efficient, which had an impact on almost every facet. of life. Going into space allowed people to turn their search efforts to Earth.

Listen to the full show on WUWM.com or on your favorite podcast app.


This press release was produced by UWM in Waukesha. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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Arline J. Mercier

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