July 2, 2018

E7 – From Landfills to Martian Hills

Posted by Joshua Speiser

Jennifer Stern reaches the top of Sverrefjellet, an extinct volcano in Svalbard, Norway with Devonian red beds in the distance on the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition (AMASE).

Building instruments to search for the building blocks of life in the rocks of Mars is no small feat. These gadgets must endure spaceflight, landing on the Martian surface, intense radiation, wild swings in temperature, uneven surfaces and then beam data collected millions of kilometers away back to expectant researchers on Earth.

In this episode, NASA geochemist Jennifer Stern gives an insider’s view of the ups and downs of testing and deploying one of these instruments – a mass spectrometer used on the Mars Curiosity Rover. Listen to Jennifer describe testing this instrument in some of the harshest environments on Earth, including the Atacama Desert in Chile and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago near North Pole. Jennifer’s path to NASA was an adventurous one that found her sampling methane in Florida landfills as a doctoral student, braving anoxic caves in Mexico, and a hazing ritual that included singing death metal songs in Norway.