8 July 2010

A US astronomer involved in the Mars Rover exploration project will deliver a free, public talk as part of The University of Queensland’s Centenary oration series at 6.30pm on Wednesday July 14.

Professor Jim Bell, who is the lead scientist on the Mars Rover camera team, will share the challenges the team faced in getting the project approved, and what information the rovers have collected during their time on the red planet.

“The talk will be part science, part human drama and part art and photography,” Professor Bell said.

For six-and-a-half-years, people from all around the world have been following the adventures of the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, online and have been privy to information instantaneously.

“This project has been very public, and followers have had access to real-time results, no different from the NASA scientists and engineers,” Professor Bell said.

“These types of missions encourage inspiration and pride, and it’s great that so many children, school teachers, space enthusiasts and everyday people have followed the adventures of Spirit and Opportunity.”

Avid followers of the mission will know that Spirit has become stuck, but Professor Bell remains optimistic she will make it through.

As for robotic versus human exploration, Professor Bell said we need both.

“The robots help humans understand the lay of the land, without us having to risk human life,” he said.

“Once the robots collect that basic data, humans can then probe deeper and ask the questions that robots simply can’t.”

Professor Bell also said that Spirit and Opportunity are not living, intelligent beings, and that it is the work of hundreds of people who have made this mission possible.

Professor Bell currently works at the Cornell Unversity Astronomy Department’s Centre for Radiophysics and Space Research. He is the sixth speaker in the UQ Centenary Oration Series.

Past speakers include Dr Tony Haymet, Director of the Scripps Institution in San Diego, Professor Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister, and Dr Penelope Wensley, Governor of Queensland.

The next speaker in the series is leading economist, Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, who will speak about free markets and the sinking of the global economy.

Professor Stiglitz’ oration is presented by the Economic Society of Australia in association with the UQ School of Economics and the UQ Business School.

Professor Stiglitz is the inaugural Rodney Wylie Eminent Visiting Fellow to The University of Queensland.

To register for Jim Bell’s Centenary Oration click here.

Media: Shannon Price, 3346 7660 or shannon.price@uq.edu.au