Czaja is an expert in Precambrian paleobiology, astrobiology and biogeochemistry.
He hopes to apply his expertise studying ancient life on Earth to help NASA do likewise on Mars. For a study published last month, Czaja photographed Earth's oldest known land fossils as part of an international research team.
He studies the early evolution of life on Earth in his geology lab at UC. In 2012, shortly before joining UC, he stayed up late to watch the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars. With the words “touchdown confirmed,” the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted into jubilant whoops and hugs.
Now he will be part of NASA’s next chapter of Mars exploration.
Czaja served on a NASA committee, the Returned Sample Science Board, that helped to choose Perseverance’s landing site called Jezero Crater. The 28-mile-wide crater contains what scientists say is a former river delta near the Martian equator.
“It’s a very good choice because the crater formed very early in Mars history,” Czaja said.
“We spent the last seven months since the launch planning how the mission will run depending on where we land in Jezero Crater,” Czaja said. “That way we can get to the science as soon as possible.”