Hi! My name is Horton Newsom and I am a geologist/geochemist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM, USA. My interests outside of geology include astronomy; I have a 16-inch diameter telescope. I also like to ride my mountain bike on the trails near my house and go skiing in the mountains nearby. My main hobby however, is the martial arts, especially Taekwondo. I started training in graduate school, and I have been an instructor for over 30 years.
When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut or an astronomer. My interest in space started early with the Mercury Program launches. I learned everything I could, and even at 6 or 7 years-old I would get up at 4:00 AM in California to watch a launch in Florida on our old black and white TV. My role on the ChemCam team is to provide input to the instrument designers from the point of view of a scientist who wants to study the surface of Mars. One really exciting aspect is that I am able to involve my students in the operation of the ChemCam instrument. My graduate students helped with the calibration of ChemCam to make sure we know how to measure rocks and soils on Mars, and today help to operate the instrument on Mars.
To me, Mars is exciting because it is the most Earth-like planet. It even has clouds! My interest in Mars began when I was 13; my space scrapbook has a big picture from the first flyby of Mars in 1965. Fifteen years later, in graduate school, I first proposed in a paper that impact craters on Mars could be a location with hydrothermal systems, thought to be a habitable environment that could support or lead to the beginning of life. The biggest ChemCam discovery for me would be evidence of an impact generated hydrothermal (hot water) system with clays and evidence of a habitable environment. It would be great to prove the idea I had about this long ago. The prospects for finding evidence of life are also very exciting; if we find life on Mars it might have come from the Earth long ago riding on a piece of rock ejected from the Earth by a large impact. After several years studying Mars with ChemCam and the Curiosity rover, I still find it terribly exciting to see each day what new wonderful images have come down from the rover, and to see what is in front of the rover that we can hit with our ChemCam laser. Being able to use the rover’s tools to study an outcrop on Mars is a planetary geologist’s dream, which we are doing every week.