Western Mars Lab

The Western Mars Lab is the planetary geology research group at Western Washington University, led by Dr. Melissa Rice.  Our research focuses on using spacecraft observations and laboratory analyses to help untangle the history of water on Mars. Our group works directly with two of NASA’s Mars rover missions: the Curiosity rover, which is actively exploring Mars, and the Perseverance rover, which launches on July 30, 2020 and lands on Mars February 18, 2021.

Undergraduate and graduate (M.Sc.) students in the Western Mars Lab come from a variety of fields (including geology, geophysics, physics, engineering, computer science and chemistry) and work with the NASA teams to test spacecraft instruments, help operate the rovers, and analyze the data from Mars.  Our recent Mars Lab alumni are now operating spacecraft at Malin Space Science Systems, designing and building spacecraft components at engineering startups, and studying planetary science in Ph.D. programs at institutions such as Purdue University and the California Institute of Technology.

Melissa Rice, current students and recent alumni from the Western Mars Lab visiting the Perseverance rover in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in January 2020. Image credit: Faith Haney, WWU

  • July 23, 2020: Melissa Rice was featured in the latest episode of NASA Astrobiology’s Countdown to Mars video series. In her interview, Melissa discusses the ins and outs of Mastcam-Z, Perseverance’s vision system and her excitement of the unexpected.
  • July 9, 2020: Melissa chatted about about the space industry and academic space science with Dr. Elizabeth Frank (First Mode), Bryné Hadnott (BlackSky), and Dr. Tanya Harrison (Planet) on the Emerald City Space Nerd Happy Hour!
  • June 8, 2020: WWU published a new video called Vikings on Mars that highlights the trip our lab group took to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory last January.
  • May 11, 2020: Mars Lab student Jess Mollerup published a guest blog post for The Planetary Society about our lab group’s trip to see the Perseverance rover at JPL.
  • October 3, 2020: Melissa Rice, Mike Kraft and Sean Mulcahy received a grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings program to study rock weathering processes on Mars by analyzing terrestrial rocks in the lab using a variety of techniques. For this project we’ll collaborate with the Seattle engineering company First Mode to build a custom-designed goniometer for our spectroscopy lab. Read more in articles from WWU, First Mode, Seattle Business Magazine and GeekWire.
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We are currently fundraising to update our Mars rover operations lab and to support more student researchers. Learn more by clicking the button below: