Space Explorers Consultant Joins Mars Exploration Rover Team

Dr. R. Aileen Yingst, Chief Research Scientist for Space Explorers, Inc., has been selected by NASA to join the science team working with the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. She is one of eight researchers added to the rover team. They join 49 scientists selected in 2000 and 2002 to use the Athena suite of science instruments on the rovers.

"This is the closest I'll ever come to becoming an astronaut," she said. "This is probably the coolest thing I'll ever do."

Yingst's role in the project will be to examine the shape and roundness of rocks on Mars to determine how they got there.

Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring sites on opposite sides of Mars since January 2004. They have found geological evidence of ancient environmental conditions that were wet and possibly habitable. The rovers are in the third extension of their missions.

Dr. Yingst has previous experience with Mars missions. She worked on the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Polar Lander projects at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona. In addition, she will take part in the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, which will send a mega-rover to Mars in 2009. That mission, part of an overall plan to eventually send humans to Mars, will deliver a mobile laboratory to the surface of Mars to explore a region as a potential habitat for past or present life.

On the MSL mission, Yingst will serve as a co-investigator on the Mars HandLens Imager, which will take images of rocks, soil, frost and ice at resolutions 2.4 times better than the Microscopic Imager now onboard the Mars Exploration Rovers.

Besides her Mars projects, Yingst is the director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium based at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she is also an adjunct associate professor. She earned Ph.D. and master's degrees in geological sciences from Brown University.

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