Hi there! My name is Ken Herkenhoff and I live in Flagstaff, AZ, USA. My role on the ChemCam team as a planetary geologist is to help plan what areas of the martian surface to image with the Remote Microscopic Imager (RMI) and then study those images. I’m also checking and updating the calibration of the RMI using images taken on Mars.
I was fortunate to be deeply involved in the Mars Pathfinder project at JPL, which sent the Sojourner rover to the surface of Mars. Sojourner's success led to the Mars Exploration Rover project, for which I lead the Microscopic Imager science investigation. The experience I have gained from these missions has helped prepare me for the continued exploration of Mars with ChemCam. In addition, I am the polar geology science theme lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
When I was a boy, I wanted to be an astronomer, and was particularly interested in the planets. Exploration of the solar system by spacecraft had just begun, and discoveries were being made at a rapid pace. The view of Earth from the Moon taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts in December 1968 (when I was 10) made a special impression on me: Earth is the most beautiful planet, precious to all of us. While I was interested in Mars at this age, the moon landings commanded my attention and solidified my interest in planetary exploration.
In 1964, my great-grandmother gave me the Golden Book of Astronomy for Christmas. It fascinated me, and I read it over and over. It included a painting showing the putative canals on Mars, as well as telescopic photographs showing only a few details on Mars' surface. So little was known about Mars and the other planets at that time that every image returned from Mars by spacecraft in the years that followed was a revelation. The Mars discoveries continue, as does my interest.
Mars is arguably the most Earth-like planet in the solar system, the only planet that will be explored by humans in the near future. Like Earth, Mars has lake beds, deserts, craters, volcanoes, and polar ice layers that record climate changes. But we don't know whether life evolved on Mars, nor whether it exists there today. Exploring Mars may answers many questions regarding the origin of life and the causes of climate changes on Earth. While the discovery of evidence of life on Mars would be very exciting, I don't expect that MSL will be lucky enough to do this. It is exciting enough that ChemCam and the other MSL instruments have found chemicals, rocks and minerals that formed in a water-rich environment and would have been conducive to the origin and evolution of life.