New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science hosts NASA scientists

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – You can learn a lot from New Mexico’s Museum of Natural History and Science, but it’s not every day you get a lesson from Dr. Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

“For over 30 years, we’ve been looking at Mars,” he told KOB 4, standing in front of one of the only life-size replicas of the sample-collecting Perseverance Rover. “We’re learning a lot with our missions going to Mars, but we need to bring those samples back so we can really dig into them and study things on like a grain-by-grade basis.”

“I use the rover as like a robotic set of eyes, to examine the terrain,” explained Dr. Larry Crumpler, a fellow New Mexican who joined multiple Mars missions and now serves as a research curator of volcanology and space sciences at the museum. “We touch the rocks with their instruments, understand what they are.”

Close to a dozen space science leaders decided to plan the next 20 years of exploration on the red planet in Santa Fe, because New Mexico looks similar to Mars.

“A lot of people are discovering that New Mexico is just such an alien place, and it’s like another planet,” Crumpler said.

“Through the exploration of places here in New Mexico, we get a better idea of how to approach what we should be looking for on places on Mars,” Meyer added.

The experts say they could not leave without visiting the Mars exhibit in Albuquerque Friday morning. So, the museum made a whole day of it, inviting close to 800 students from local schools to learn more about Mars and see the Perseverance replica before it leaves in June.

“We figured this would be a great opportunity to spend a day, interact with the public, let people know what we’re doing, have everybody ask questions,” Meyer said. “It’s very invigorating on the back and forth and hearing what people are most interested in, and be able to tell stories and relay what fantastic things our robots are doing on Mars.”