Space engineer talks about her search for life on Mars

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Last week, NASA’s Perseverance rover spotted its companion, the downed Ingenuity helicopter, in its final resting place amongst a sea of sand ripples on Mars. The aircraft had suffered irreparable damage in a rough landing, but before that, it had snapped a breathtaking view of the Martian landscape with wind-strewn dunes reaching out towards a field of rocky hilltops.

Although the craft will never take flight again, it was a symbol of the “ingenuity” that’s surging through the space industry at the moment. The atmosphere on Mars is a hundred times lighter than on Earth, making flight on the red planet a completely different engineering challenge. Initially, the goal of the Ingenuity project was to build an aircraft that would fly at least once. In the end, the helicopter took 72 flights on Mars.

Now, the Perseverance rover will continue its search for evidence of life without Ingenuity, but it won’t be alone. Nagin Cox and her team of “first generation Martians,” as they call themselves, are following its progress remotely from Earth.

Having worked in civilian, military, and commercial space operations, Cox has seen the evolution of the industry over the last few years being propelled by emerging technologies and competition from new players on the scene.

Currently, Cox is working for NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory where she specialises in deep space robotic missions to Mars. Through her work, Cox seeks to uncover the many questions we have about this mysterious red planet, perhaps the most fascinating for us (and the late David Bowie) being “Is there life on Mars?”

We asked her…

  • What do you expect to find when the Mars sample mission returns in 2031?
  • What’s it like working on Mars time?
  • When will we send the first humans to Mars?

Find out what Cox had to say about this and more: