Just months after closing out the 15-year-long Opportunity rover mission on Mars, Cornell University astronomer Steve Squyres is taking advantage of a new opportunity: the post of chief scientist at Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.
Today Blue Origin confirmed that Squyres, 63, will be joining the company, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash.
Squyres has been involved in NASA space missions including Voyager’s trip past the solar system’s giant planets and Magellan’s voyage to Venus. But his main claim to fame is his stint as principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers.
The twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, bounced onto different locations on the Red Planet’s surface in 2004, beginning missions that were baselined for 90 days. To the team’s surprise, Spirit ended up lasting six years, and Opportunity continued to send data back until the solar-powered rover went out of contact during a massive Martian dust storm in mid-2018.
After months of trying to re-establish contact, NASA declared an end to the mission in February. “It was an honorable end, and it came a whole lot later than any of us expected,” Squyres said at the time.
The rover missions confirmed that Mars was once wetter, warmer and more hospitable to life than it is today — findings that have been expanded upon during the Curiosity rover mission that began in 2012 and is still in its prime.
Squyres is the author of a 2005 book about the rover missions called “Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet.” He chaired the NASA Advisory Council from 2011 to 2016, and served as an “aquanaut” on NASA’s underwater NEEMO missions in 2011 and 2012.
He was the principal investigator for the proposed CAESAR mission, which would have captured a sample from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and brought it back to Earth. CAESAR was a finalist to become NASA’s next New Frontiers project but lost out to the Dragonfly mission to Titan in June.
The main extraterrestrial target on Blue Origin’s agenda is the moon. In May, Bezos unveiled a mockup of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander, which is considered a strong contender for NASA’s missions to the moon in the 2020s.
Squyres was listed as a member of the Blue Moon science advisory board at the time of the unveiling.