Interactive Sessions - Kids' Tech University (KTU) at VSU    

Shaunna Morrison November 22, 2014
From Rocks to Rockets: A Journey to Mars

An interactive session led by Shaunna Morrison

NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Science Team Member and operator of the CheMin instrument onboard the Curiosity Rover in Gale crater, Mars.
National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow and a PhD student in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona.


“Go!!” I said enthusiastically as I approved the plan for the first soil sample delivery to CheMin. Now it was up to me, NASA engineers, and a bit of luck as I prepared for a long night of command sequencing at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Only days later, the groundbreaking result would be transmitted back to earth: the first X-ray diffraction pattern of soil minerals from a world other than our own.

This adventure started as I sat side-by-side with NASA personnel and scientists at JPL while watching the death-defying landing of the largest and most advanced rover sent to another planet. From there, I learned to operate the CheMin instrument on board the Curiosity rover and thus became a Payload Uplink/Downlink Lead (PUDL). CheMin is the first X-ray diffractometer ever sent to space . It shoots rocks and soil with X-rays to determine what minerals are present – giving us clues to whether or not life could’ve existed on Mars. Come and share and out-of-this-world experience!

Shaunna Morrison, M.S., is a NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Science Team Member and operator of the CheMin instrument onboard the Curiosity Rover in Gale crater, Mars. She is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow and a PhD student in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona. Morrison began her graduate research career in August 2011. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Geology at Georgia Southwestern State University while also co-managing and owning Papa’s Pizza in Montezuma Georgia. Morrison joined the MSL team in June 2012, just prior to Curiosity’s landing on the Red Planet. In addition to participating in MSL mission operations, her research has focused on mineralogy, crystallography, Raman spectroscopy and chemistry of Martian and rare earth element (REE) minerals.

November 2014 - Hands-On Exhibits
After the interactive session the students will be escorted by their parents to have lunch and then to the hands-on portion of the event. There the students will enjoy the experience of interacting with various exhibits from the Virginia State University community.