Mars geologist available to discuss Perseverance

Rice’s Kirsten Siebach will help operate NASA’s next rover, set to land Feb. 18


HOUSTON – (Feb. 12, 2021) – Kirsten Siebach, a Martian geologist at Rice University, is available to speak with the media before NASA’s next Mars rover, Perseverance, lands on Feb. 18.

The rover will be the first in a chain of missions designed to bring pieces of Mars back to Earth, and Siebach is one of the mission specialists selected to help operate the rover and scout for those samples. Among its sophisticated instruments, Perseverance will include a robotic helicopter, Ingenuity, which will make the first attempt at powered flight on another planet.

Siebach will be among those tuning in to experience the “seven minutes of terror” as Perseverance executes its complicated landing sequence, touching down at 3:55 p.m. Eastern time with no assistance from mission control.

“I am so excited, terrified and thrilled to watch Perseverance’s landing,” Siebach said. “This seven-minute window when the rover slows from 12,000 miles per hour to zero, targeting an area smaller than Manhattan after traveling 292 million miles from Earth, is the crucial moment between decades of planning and building and decades of exploring and discovering. It’s hard to overstate the emotion that you feel during those few critical minutes.”

Siebach, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, served in a similar role as a member of the Curiosity rover team, helping to direct the vehicle as it has covered more than 15 miles since landing in August 2012.

Data gathered by Curiosity from Mars’ Gale Crater led Siebach and her colleagues to recently conclude the region’s climate was once like Iceland, based on comparisons to locations on Earth with terrain that has undergone similar weathering.

“Perseverance has the most advanced landing system of any mission to Mars to date, enabling it to land in Jezero Crater,” she said. “Jezero is a fantastic location with multiple environments relevant to astrobiology: an ancient lake that could have hosted and preserved life, and an even older giant impact crater that heated groundwater springs that altered nutrient-rich rocks more than 4 billion years ago.

“We will search the records of those environments to look for signs of ancient life, which we can bring back to Earth in the follow-up missions,” Siebach said. “The carbonate deposits potentially forming ‘bathtub rings’ around the lake are especially exciting because carbonates preserve fossils extremely well on Earth, but they are surprisingly rare on Mars.”

To schedule an interview with Siebach, contact Mike Williams, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6728 or


Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Siebach Lab:

Mars 2020: Perseverance:

Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences:

Wiess School of Natural Sciences:

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Kirsten Siebach

CAPTION: Kirsten Siebach. (Credit: Rice University)

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