This fall, NASA awarded a $302,000 contract to Western Washington University faculty and First Mode, a Seattle-based manufacturing company.
“The project has been in the works for about three years,” Melissa Rice, associate professor of geology, says.
The contract is to build a goniometer, a piece of equipment that will allow researchers to view images from different angles. These improved images will help Mars rover teams gain a better understanding of the surface of the red planet.
“We know that rocks can look shinier or have different colors when they are lit from different angles, and we want to know why,” Rice says. “Ultimately, when a Mars rover sees similar changes in rock surfaces on Mars, we’ll know what it is about the rock itself that is causing it—and that can help us understand the history of that rock, and whether it has interacted with lots of water.”
People working on the project include Rice, Mike Kraft of the Scientific Technical Services department, and Sean Mulcahy, assistant professor of geology. While the contract brings a significant sum of money to campus, it also comes with even more peripheral advantages.
“This NASA contract means that Western will have state-of-the-art new equipment for a planetary spectroscopy laboratory,” Rice says. “There is funding for us to hire a new graduate student and several summer interns over the next three years. Once the contract is finished, the goniometer itself will stay at Western and can be used for many, many more future research projects.”
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