Move over, rover. As an intern last summer at the NASA-affiliated Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Alyssa Pascuzzo ’15 planned to use data collected by the Curiosity rover to model the geologic history of Mars’ Mount Sharp, a mountain inside a crater named Gale. But when Curiosity took longer than expected to make it to the mountain, Pascuzzo shifted her attention to the crater itself, analyzing high-resolution images from NASA’s Mars orbiters to compare Gale with other craters on the red planet. She identified a similar crater, Nicholson, and is making the first-known geologic map of it for her senior thesis.
I credit my interest in space to my dad. He’s the science one in the family. He would take us out to watch meteor showers and use his old telescope. We’d go on road trips to Flagstaff [Arizona] and visit the Lowell Observatory.
I decided to major in geosciences because as a geologist, you’re kind of like a private investigator—but for Earth. You’re investigating rocks and trying to tell the story of what happened. That was really motivating to me.
Specifically, I’m interested in the geologic record of Mars. We know nothing about it. We can’t go there and bring back rocks. We can’t study the time scale. Studying the rocks of Mars up close could help us better understand how planets evolve.
I wish I could say to NASA: “Send me to Mars! I’ll look at the rocks myself.” The rovers do a great job, but they don’t do the jobs that humans can do. I want to touch the rocks and look at them with a hand lens.
Mars fascinates people because it’s so much like Earth. It’s somewhat habitable, or it used to be. The fact that there was water on Mars intrigues us as humans. I think it goes back to people wanting to know what started life.
The future of space exploration is commercial. SpaceX especially, because [founder] Elon Musk is awesome, and Virgin Galactic. I think NASA will start cooperating with a lot more commercial industries to keep space exploration up.
After I graduate, I plan to get my Ph.D. in planetary science and be a professor. My top three schools are Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and one of the University of California schools—UCLA or UC Berkeley.
We need more women in science because science is a male-dominated field. The whole Smith vibe of having women be more influential—it’s great to be a part of that.
SAQ Winter 2014-15