Czaja, an astrobiologist, is serving on the NASA science team that will use the rover Perseverance and a helicopter called Ingenuity to explore Mars in search of evidence of ancient life. Czaja previously served on the NASA advisory board that helped decide where on Mars to send the rover.
“If life forms separately on two planets in one solar system, that means it’s fairly easy for life to get started,” Czaja said. “And if we can prove Mars witnessed a separate origin of life, that’s very exciting. It means we have a high probability of finding life elsewhere in the universe, too.”
Perseverance is the largest, heaviest rover NASA has ever built. It’s one of the world’s most advanced autonomous robots.
Czaja spoke to Cincinnati's Local 12 about his hopes for the rover's historic mission.
"It’s a really exciting spot. It’s a crater that had a lake in it at one point 46 billions of years ago,” Czaja told Local 12.
Czaja isn't UC's only connection to the next Mars mission.
Three UC College of Engineering and Applied Science graduates contributed to the Herculean feat of engineering. Sophia Mitchell, Rebecca Perkins and Stephanie Mitana played a role in preparing the rover and its complicated landing system called a sky crane.
A capsule containing the rover will enter the Mars atmosphere, deploying a parachute to slow its descent. The capsule will eject the rover attached to the sky crane that uses rockets to hover over the Mars surface, gently lowering the rover to the ground with cables.
Mitana worked on the sky crane system. Mitchell served as lead systems engineer for the gas dust removal tool on the rover's robotic arm. Perkins started her career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2012 and worked on the rover system that deploys tubes to collect mineral samples.
Listen to Cincinnati Edition.