A Lewisburg graduate completing his Ph.D. in chemistry is encouraging NASA decide no matter if there is now or at any time was existence on Mars.

The problem is the key directive of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which is established to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Thursday.

“There is proof that at one particular position there was liquid drinking water on the planet,” mentioned Tim Csernica, a 2014 Lewisburg Superior graduate. “It’s turn into an intriguing concern. Did some sort of lifetime ever evolve there? Was it ever existing? And if so, how would we know? What would we appear for? What items could you obtain on Mars that would notify you? Probably lifetime is extinct now, but 3.5 billion decades ago there might have been heaps of lifestyle there.”

Csernica is finding out at the California Institute of Technologies — Caltech — and is serving to to produce new analytical protocols for NASA’s missions. Caltech has a shut romance with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which sponsors U.S. robotics missions, Csernica mentioned.

Prior missions have found no evidence of lifetime on Mars, “but we’ve observed a whole lot of suggestive indicators that probably lifestyle could have been there,” he reported.

A different facet of the mission is — could lifestyle exist there? And how difficult would it be to maintain human life on Mars? How a lot engineering and scientific perform has to be done ahead of we could construct a practical human habitation on Mars?

“A single of the complications we might have is when you journey to Mars, you only have what you brought with you,” Csernica stated. “But when you land on a planet and you can acquire benefit of the h2o means or carbon dioxide or other items on Mars, you give you a leg up.”

In accordance to NASA, the robotic going to Mars, the Perseverance rover, designed at JPL, “is loaded with scientific devices, superior computational abilities for landing and other new techniques. With a chassis about 10 feet prolonged, Perseverance is also the premier, heaviest robotic Mars rover NASA has designed.”

One of the plans of the mission is to collect samples to eventually be introduced back to earth. 

“Above the next ten years, we want to decide up Mars stones (for example), convey them back again so that we can take a look at them in our individual laboratories,” Csernica claimed. “The issue I am doing the job on is as soon as another person places a Mars rock on your desk, what do you do with that rock to find out was there at any time everyday living on the planet?”

Csernica is doing work on methods to take a look at the organic molecules that we may possibly come across in individuals rocks — to say a thing about their origin and, if it is probable, irrespective of whether they came from a living point or an inorganic matter. 

Mars 2020 also has a “flight demonstrator,” which some refer to as a helicopter, connected to it. NASA has named it Ingenuity.

“It is a smaller roto-craft,” said Aerospace engineer — and Penn State College professor — Jack W. Langelaan. “And the function of it is to exhibit flight on Mars.”

Langelaan said It is a co-axial helicopter with two rotors, compact and mild, but not tremendous modest. The rotor is four and a half feet in diameter.

“It does look extra like a drone than a common helicopter,” he said. “It is really challenging to fly on Mars since the atmospheric density is extremely minimal. That will make it extremely complicated to fly anything at all. You finish up in a situation wherever in buy to fly, you have to practically fly supersonically. Anything at all that flies is heading to be actually mild, and you happen to be not going to be in a position to fly for really lengthy for the reason that it usually takes a good deal of energy to fly. It’s heading to be challenging to have sufficient electrical power to fly for a very long time.” 

So this Mars helicopter is going to be flying for 90 seconds at a time, Langelaan reported. “It’s just there to present it is probable to fly. It will do a few of helpful factors even though flying, like on the lookout at a rock sample. It will convey data back to the principal rover that is driving around.

A series of flight exams by Ingenuity will be performed over a 30-Martian-working day experimental window that will start out sometime in the spring of 2021, NASA mentioned.

For the pretty initially flight, NASA mentioned, “the helicopter will take off a several toes from the floor, hover in the air for about 20 to 30 seconds, and land. That will be a big milestone: the pretty initial run flight in the particularly thin environment of Mars. Soon after that, the crew will try extra experimental flights of incrementally farther distance and greater altitude.” 

Langelaan reported that he has always been interested in “things that fly.”

Properly then, Langelaan is portion of four-particular person PSU “team” that is functioning on a 2026 NASA launch to Titan, just one of Saturn’s moons. “I am included in the plane facet of the job,” he stated. 

Titan has an environment, Langelaan defined, “and the ambiance is genuinely thick. Titan’s gravity is pretty lower and so it can be a fantastic position to fly. Penn Point out is functioning with Johns Hopkins’ used physics lab.”

The Penn Point out group is operating on the atmospheric flight motor vehicle/drone side of factors, Langelaan explained.