May 19, 2003
CONTACT: Becky Zelinski, 661/664-2138, bzelinski@csub.edu
or Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

CSUB student works on Mars Exploration Rover mission

When the first Mars Exploration Rover (MER) sets off on its galactic mission in a few weeks, one young Bakersfield man will be intently watching.

Rick Schroeder, a senior geology/computer science major at California State University, Bakersfield has a vested interest in the successful landing of the rover. Last summer, Schroeder worked on the Mars Exploration Rover mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and is anxiously waiting to witness the fruits of his labor.

ìItís going to be an awesome feeling,î Schroeder said. ìIíll probably be following it day-to-day to watch whatís going on with it and, hopefully, Iíll get to go to JPL and track it.î

Blending his geological and computer science knowledge, Schroeder worked with JPL landing site project scientist Matt Golombek to help assess the risks of the proposed rover landing sites. For many weeks, Schroeder characterized rock shape and size distributions on the planetís surface to help the team determine the safest places for the Mars rovers to land.

The first Mars Exploration Rover, Vehicle Delta II, will be launched on June 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The second rover, Delta II Heavy, will leave Earth on June 25.

Schroeder has been invited to attend the launch ceremonies for the June launch, which will be held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Schroeder earned the opportunity to work on the MER program through the California Institute of Technologyís Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. According to SURF director, Carolyn Ash Merkel, SURF internships are primarily reserved for Cal Tech students. Last summer, Schroeder was one of only 160 students accepted from other universities worldwide.

ìStudents who get into SURF are students who have a great deal of initiative, drive and enthusiasm for having this kind of experience,î Merkel said. ìThey are passionate about science or engineering and represent some of the worldís most ambitious future scientists.î

It has been Schroederís life-long dream to become an astronaut. He graduated from Stockdale High School in 1999 and has two more quarters at CSUB before heíll pursue his doctorate degree. Schroeder works as an intern at Aera Energy LLC and is also a published researcher. He recently presented a poster at the Lunar Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas and made oral presentations at the Mars Exploration Rover Landing Site Workshop in Arcadia, and for the San Joaquin Geologic Society in Bakersfield.

Though the successful landing of the rovers will be the icing on the cake, Schroeder said the entire experience has been invaluable.

ìThe overall experience has just been awesome,î Schroeder said. ìWorking with images of Mars, and side-by-side with someone like Matt Golombek, was very exciting.î