My name is Muriel Saccoccio. I am an engineer, living in Toulouse, France, and working at CNES, the french space agency.
At the beginning of the ChemCam project, in the early 2000s, I was responsible for the development of the ChemCam laser, using my previous experience in the development of lasers for space applications for CNES.
In 2005, I became the project manager for the development of the french part of ChemCam (Mast Unit, the unit containing the camera and the lasers). My role was to organize and lead the technical activities in France as well as those involving the French part of the team in the USA (after the delivery of our unit in 2008 and till the launch in 2011).
Since the launch of Curiosity, I support the ChemCam Operation Team to optimize the use of Chemcam on Mars and check its good health. After the development of ChemCam, I have been involved in the development of an instrument for meteorology and a satellite for earth observation. Now I am leading the french team developing and operating the PILOT experience for cosmology : it is an instrument developed at IRAP, in cooperation with IAS and CEA in France, with hardware contributions from the universities of Cardiff (UK) and Roma (Italy). This instrument has flown about 24 hours at 40 km under a very big stratospheric balloon over Canada in sept. 2015, and will fly again, over Australia in 2017. It will help to complete our understanding of our galaxy, the universe and the cosmic background fine structure.
When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. Space exploration seemed, to me, a great adventure, and a mean for a great progress in the knowledge and understanding of our universe for humanity. I was not focused on Mars in particular, but space and planets in general. Mars is really our neighbor : its landscape looks familiar and its ground can tell us its story and help us to understand the Earth one. Being part of the Mars Science Laboratory project, building a new instrument for Mars exploration and following its life and results on Mars is really an exciting experience.
ChemCam is a brand new kind of instrument for space exploration (it has never flown before). It greatly expands the capability of chemical in-situ analyses on the surface of Mars and could do the same in the future, maybe, on other rocky planets. ChemCam and MSL discoveries are exciting, and have put the understanding of Mars history one step beyond and this adventure is not over.
Thanks to its success on Mars, ChemCam has now a successor in preparation that will join Mars on a rover similar to Curiosity (for the mission called Mars 2020). I am not in the development team, this time, but I try to help them to succeed through the review process as a Standing review Board member. This is another exciting adventure.