Alumni make their mark on Mars exploration

Several University of South Carolina alumni have played instrumental roles in developing the technology to scour Mars’ surface for signs of ancient life.

Yang Cheng, ’93 geography Ph.D. graduate, was a key designer of the landing vision system for NASA’s Perseverance rover, which launched in 2021 and reached Mars in February 2021.

“I was excited that I had the opportunity to make the first navigation map for the safe landing of a spacecraft in human history,” he says. “But I was nervous because this is the first time in history.” 

Mike Angel, who recently retired as a Carolina Trustee Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, pioneered a method for collecting data from the spectrometer at a distance.

“When I wrote that paper in 1992, I never would have imagined [the technology] would end up on Mars. Not in a million years,” Angel says. “I was interested in planetary exploration, but [the spectrometer] was too crude and too big. It needed a lot of engineering.” 

Alicia Strange-Fessler joined the lab as a doctoral student, and her research focused on extending the range and accuracy of remote spectrometers in defense applications.

“I liked seeing a connection between what I did as a nerdy scientist potentially impacting people I cared about,” she says. 

Read the full story, written by Bryan Gentry, on the university website.

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