IN 2015, an observatory high in the Atacama Desert of Chile detected three planets orbiting an M star, an ultra-cool dwarf, in the constellation Aquarius about 40 light years, or 232 trillion miles, from Earth. Until then, the dim star was designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Not such a charming name. The discoverers of its satellites, a team of astronomers who operate the Chilean observatory remotely from Liege in Belgium, took the opportunity to warm up that appellation.
Ever hear that old cliché “This ain’t rocket science?” I wouldn’t use it around Ashley Chandler Karp because what she does is rocket science. A propulsion engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, she’s helping design the next generation of rockets, which will bring samples from Mars back to Earth for more extensive testing than can be done on the Martian surface.
As if that weren’t ambitious enough, they also have to figure out a way to transport the stuff here without getting any contamination from the Red Planet on the container.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
1. How would you describe the route that led you to a simulated Mars mission?