UT fellow advocated for location of next Mars rover mission

NASA has announced the landing site for its next rover mission which is set to launch in 2020 and it's heading to a particular spot thanks to a doctor at the University of Texas.

Tim Goudge is a Postdoctoral Fellow at UT's Jackson School of Geosciences. His expertise: planetary geology.

Goudge says the landing selection process for the next Mars rover mission started in 2014 as an open call to the science community.

"Anybody can propose a site. So at the time, I was a PHD student at Brown University working on a site called Jezero Crater," Goudge said.

Goudge says his advisor suggested he propose the Jezero Crater.

"We think this crater hosted a lake and this river delta was forming over 3.5 billion years ago," Goudge said.

Goudge says the Jezero Crater is a perfect spot to explore because a river would have brought in material from a huge area and it would have collected there.

"The analogy I like to use is if you're looking for the needle in the haystack, you get to remove the hay and just find the needles and just collect the needles into one location and so that's really what makes it attractive," Goudge said.

After years of narrowing down the list of possible locations, this week NASA announced the "Mars 2020" rover mission will launch in July of 2020 headed for the Jezero Crater.

Apparently the site has been considered unsafe to land on before but engineering advances have changed that.

"It's been very exciting to be a part of advocating for a site that ultimately they're going to go to and to have predictions that I've made from orbit we'll be able to test those on the ground with much better data," he said.

And this is no ordinary rover mission. According to NASA, this rover will be equipped with the tools to collect soil samples.

NASA will be working with the European Space Agency to figure out how a future mission could bring those samples back to earth to study.

As the great David Bowie once asked: "Is there life on Mars?" Perhaps a better question: "Was there life on Mars?"

Goudge says it's a little hard to speculate whether NASA will or will not find the evidence.

"If they did I think it would obviously revolutionize our whole understanding of our place in the universe and just the way life evolves," Goudge said.

Goudge says he's hoping to do more than just watch the rover land. He's going to propose being on the science team.