Siena College professor has role in Mars rover return mission


LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (WTEN) — Thursday morning’s Mars rover launch at Cape Canaveral was just part one of a decades-long mission to learn more about the Red Planet. In the meantime, a professor at Siena College will be contributing research to make sure samples from the planet return home safely.

The Perseverance rover that took off Thursday is equipped to drill and collect rock samples from Mars. It will be looking for microscopic fossils. It will store the samples until a future mission brings them back to Earth for study.

That return mission is where Dr. Thomas Coohill’s expertise comes in. Coohill is a Professor of Physics at Siena College.

His work with ultraviolet radiation caught the attention of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, known as JPL, where he did life-changing research three decades ago.

Coohill is working on sterilization technology to keep the alien materials intact, while protecting the Earth from Mars matter. That return craft is set to land in Utah.

“What happens next? Well, we collect it, we put it into a lab that hasn’t been built yet, and it’ll be the most sterile place on earth,” Dr. Coohill told News10’s Giuliana Bruno, “and if it’s just right, it’s supposed to land in August 2031. If it does on August 25th, that’s my 90th birthday. Wouldn’t that be something?”

And what’s at stake for this mission? Dr. Coohill is very excited about the possibilities.

“My guess is we will find something, and then we’ll finally know the answer to the question, is life only on earth?”

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