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Superheroes of Science

May 15, 2020

Barbara Cohen is a Planetary Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Her interest lies in impact events across the Solar System. Barbara’s work includes laboratory geochronology (time and earth) to determine when rocks formed. Because she is not able to travel to places like the Moon and Mars, Barbara instead relies on robots that can travel to these places and perform investigations. She has participated in NASA missions that include Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the current Perseverance mission. Rovers from each of these missions have collected samples and returned them to scientists back on Earth. Barbara is hopeful that the United States will eventually send a robot to the Moon to collect samples. Plans for travel to the Moon include a possible mission (hopefully in 2021) called Lunar Flashlight, where a very small satellite will shine a laser on some of the Moon’s darkest craters in an attempt to look for ice hidden at the Moon’s South Pole. Lunar Flashlight will also serve to collect information related to the record of bombardment in our Solar System. All of the comets and asteroids that have been hitting the Earth and the Moon leave traces of themselves behind that can be used as a time capsule. Barbara is also working on sending a mass spectrometer to the moon that will travel on a commercial lunar lander (hopefully in 2021). Barbara explains how mass spectrometry works. The mass spectrometer will look at molecules in the lunar exosphere and provide data that Barbara can use to do geochronology on the Moon. Barbara is also interested in improving imagery to allow people on Earth a better virtual reality experience for what it’s like on the surfaces of both the Moon and Mars.