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Dr. Tanya Harrison

Scientists and engineers are nerds who like to have a bit of fun—even when it comes to their spacecraft. Let’s take a look at some of the Easter Eggs they’ve put aboard the rovers and landers on Mars:

The Code in the Parachute

Actual footage from the Perseverance rover looking up at its parachute as it was landing on Mars in February 2021. You can view the entire descent video here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Actual footage from the Perseverance rover looking up at its parachute as it was landing on Mars in February 2021. You can view the entire descent video here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perhaps the most famous Easter egg recently was hidden in the landing parachute for NASA’s Perseverance rover. At first glance, you might not think anything of the design. But there is actually a binary code in the pattern. …


This week, NASA’s Curiosity rover returned a stunning image of martian clouds.

Twilight clouds over “Mont Mercou” as seen by the Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3072 (March 28, 2021). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Twilight clouds over “Mont Mercou” as seen by the Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3072 (March 28, 2021). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mars is a freezing polar desert. Nearly all of the water there is locked up in ice in the polar caps or surface frost, buried underground, or locked up in the mineral structures within rocks. But some of it exists high in the air as water-ice clouds. The image above shows the latest view of these clouds on Mars, hanging over the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater near dusk on the 3072nd martian day (“sol”) the rover has been on the surface of the Red Planet. …


Eric Berger’s new book gives me a whole new appreciation for what Elon Musk and all of the talented engineers at SpaceX have managed to achieve.

The commercial space landscape has come a long way in the past decade. Ten years ago, SpaceX barely had any successful launches under their belt. The Space Shuttle was about to retire, and I doubt anyone around at the time would have guessed that the next time humans launched into space from American soil would be aboard a SpaceX rocket, inside a SpaceX crew capsule, only nine years later. …


Any space fans that grew up in the era of Apollo will likely tell you they thought that by the 2020s, we’d have humans living on the Moon and traveling to Mars. Weekend jaunts up to space hotels orbiting Earth would be commonplace, and maybe we’d be getting to spaceports in our flying cars.

But we don’t have any of this. As of right now, only 7 “tourists” have been into space. All were launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket coordinated by a U.S.-based company called Space Adventures (who prefers the term “private astronauts” rather than “space tourists”). …


I resisted the idea of this for years, but I’ve finally come to terms with it.

When I was a child, I was a pretty normal kid in terms of physical activity. Growing up mostly before the age of home internet, all we had at our house was a Commodore 64 that my dad could only sporadically get to work. This meant my younger sister and I spent a lot of time playing outside. In grade 5, I was on the local basketball team—chosen specifically because I thought it would be unexpected of me as the shortest person in my…


The space industry is rapidly growing, with an almost overwhelming array of options to chose from.

At the SEDS Ascension conference today, a student question came up during a panel I was on: If you’re interested in a lot of different things when it comes to space, how do you pick what to focus on?

This is a great question, and one that would have helped me early in my university path in terms of selecting a major. Starting college, I knew I was obsessed with Mars, and so I went into astronomy because planets are in space. It wasn’t…


NASA’s Perseverance rover carried an Easter egg onboard: A family portrait showing the evolution of our wheeled avatars on the Red Planet. What have these rovers taught us?

Five rovers have successfully landed on the surface of Mars to date, all from NASA: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance. Each one of these has built upon the knowledge gained from its predecessors to help us paint a more complete picture of the history of water—and potentially life—on Mars.

Sojourner


Building upon the article I posted about the pyramid scheme of academia, let’s get into some specific non-academic career options if you are studying space-related fields.

This list is U.S.-centric, but there are likely analogues to each option in many other countries as well. Please note that none of the companies or entities mentioned in this article are meant as an endorsement, and are provided for informational purposes only.

NASA

The Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image credit: NASA/Bill White
The Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image credit: NASA/Bill White

Okay, this probably seems obvious for a space-related career. NASA has various centers across the U.S., each with a different focus. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama focuses on rockets…


NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars today with the goal of searching for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. But exploring Mars is important beyond just the search for alien life.

Humans have had a longstanding obsession with Mars: Our sometimes-nearest neighbour, a world that is Earthlike enough that we can relate to its towering volcanoes and windswept dunes, yet alien enough to spark fascination about its history. The question of whether Mars ever harboured life has been the main driver behind NASA’s entire Mars Exploration Program—and for good reason. …


While things were pretty rough here on Earth in 2020, it was an amazing year for space exploration. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights and remind ourselves of some of the truly awesome things humans are capable of:

Mars, imaged from the Pic-du-Midi Observatory in France on Halloween 2020.
Mars, imaged from the Pic-du-Midi Observatory in France on Halloween 2020.

In July we saw a veritable fleet of spacecraft set off of Mars: NASA’s Perseverance rover, China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter+rover+lander combo, and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter. This is probably the most crowded a martian launch window has been since the days of the Space Race, and certainly the most multi-national. To date only NASA has managed to successfully

Dr. Tanya Harrison

Professional Martian. PhD Geoscientist at Planet Labs. Former operations team member for Opportunity, Curiosity, & the Mars Recon. Orbiter. Views = my own.

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