Physics Prof, Team Honoured by NASA

September 24, 2013 - News Release

A University of Guelph scientist will be recognized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) this fall for his work on the Mars rover Curiosity.

Prof. Ralf Gellert, Department of Physics, will receive an Outstanding Public Leadership Medal.

The NASA award recognizes non-government employees involved in developing and deploying the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover that landed on Mars in 2012.

Gellert is one of 24 recipients, all principal investigators for the science instruments on the rover.

An international group of scientists led by Gellert developed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) on the rover that analyzes elements in soil and rock. The rover is looking for evidence that Mars might have supported life.

Gellert was also involved in designing and building an earlier version of the instrument for twin rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Almost a decade later, the APXS on Opportunity still sends data to Earth.

Gellert joined U of G in 2005.

The MSL APXS Instrument Development and Science Team will also receive a 2013 Group Achievement Award from NASA.

Guelph science team members include Gellert; physics professor Iain Campbell; adjunct professor Penny King; Nick Boyd, APXS operations lead; post-doc Irina Pradler; and graduate students Glynis Perrett and Scott VanBommel. The award also recognizes a group that established a facility at Guelph to calibrate the APXS device.

Other group award recipients are employees of the Canadian Space Agency, which funded the device, and instrument builders MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. in Brampton, Ont.

Referring to the team award, Gellert said: “It’s a very important recognition of all the people have done great things to make the mission happen. It’s a team effort.”

Daily operation and analysis of APXS data from Curiosity occurs in an operations centre in the MacNaughton Building at U of G.

The awards will be presented in early October.

Gellert, Campbell and other team members are among co-authors on papers to be published next week in Science involving APXS data from Curiosity.

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