Edmonton geologist to decide what NASA brings back from Mars

Chris Herd, an Edmonton geologist, will decide which Martian meteorites are collected on NASA's 2020 expedition to the Red Planet. 

The mission, launching this summer and arriving on Mars next February, will be NASA's first attempt to collect actual Martian rock and dust samples and bring them back to earth.

The Mars Rover will collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils it encounters and will store them until another Mars mission can retrieve them and bring them back to Earth at some time in the future. 

In a CBC News interview Herd said: "It's super exciting. It's amazing, there is something about Mars that really sparked my imagination. This is the first real step that NASA and other space agencies have taken to actually take samples back." 

Herd is a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences as well as the curator of the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection.  He will be one of 10 experts on the project and will decide which outcroppings of rock are most likely to provide useful data about Mars's geological history. 

"Where we are going is where the action is," he said. "Water was there and, potentially, life and that's ultimately the goal of this mission, to search for signs of life.  My role is for at least the next three years," he said. "The samples would come back sometime in 2031 or likely a little later.  It's a huge undertaking."