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Local Researchers a Big Part of NASA’s Curiosity Success

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) – The Curiosity rover took seven years to build, but once it landed on Mars Monday morning, the room of NASA scientists and engineers who worked on it, exploded with cheers.

“When we saw the first image that had the wheel in it, grown men cried,” said Darby Dyar, the Chair of Astronomy at Mt. Holyoke College.   “I’ve never seen so many grown men cry.”

Darby Dyar teaches astronomy at several local colleges. She was one of the scientists who helped to design the Curiosity.

“We spent so many months looking at this landing site so to see the shadow which gave us direction and the rocks behind it- it was just amazing.”

Dyar spent years studying hydrogen and oxygen and temperatures of Mars’ surface.

“A lot of the instrumentation on the rover has to be heated up so that it will work properly. It’s amazing the juggling act on the rover to make sure each piece is heated properly,” said Dyar.

Dyar said watching the launch at the space center was the most memorable time of her life. Now she looks forward to evaluating the ground samples from a laser that she designed with help from her students and staff at Mt. Holyoke College

“One of the things we’re looking for on this mountain is signs of how the climate has changed over time and how that might then of course be hospitable for life having evolved there in the distant past.”

The Curiosity is expected to stay on mars for two years.  Over that time, several tests will be conducted.  Dyar said she expects they will find lots of interesting details about the planet’s past.

“Be excited about what’s to come because give us weeks, months, years and we’ll see amazing science come out of this planet.”

Dyar will be working with other local specialists from a special research lab right at Mt. Holyoke College to assess the discoveries.