Setting Our Sights on Mars!

Mars rover on rough terrain

Friday, February 12, 2021
12:00-1:00 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time)




Check out this video to watch the Setting Our Sights on Mars!

Setting Our Sights on Mars

Brought to you in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Western Alumni Association

Join us as we set our sights on Mars! The Perseverance Rover launched in July and is set to land on Mars on February 18th, 2021. When Perseverance lands on the Red Planet, Western students in geology, physics and engineering will work directly with NASA to test spacecraft instruments, help operate the rover and analyze data from Mars.
This webinar, hosted by Western professor and Mars Rover team member Dr. Melissa Rice, will include Darian Dixon ('18), alumna and grad student Jess Mollerup ('20), and moderator Dr. Scott Linneman. You'll enjoy an overview of the Mars Rover Perseverance project, hear about the student experience on the project, and learn all about Mastcam-Z, the camera—worked on by our Western team—that’s on the Rover on its way to Mars.

Check out this video in which Western students get to meet the Rover!

Melissa Rice

Dr. Melissa Rice


Dr. Rice is an Associate Professor of Planetary Science at Western Washington University, where she has held a joint appointment in the Geology Department and the Physics & Astronomy Department since 2014. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University in 2012, and was a NASA Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral fellow at Caltech from 2012-2014. Her research focuses on the sedimentology, stratigraphy and mineralogy of Mars.

Darian Dixon

Darian Dixon ('18)


After sitting at his desk as an undergraduate watching coverage of the Curiosity Rover launch, Darian Dixon knew what he needed to do. He had long dreamed of working in the space industry and contributing to human exploration of the cosmos, and right then and there, he decided he would change his major and pursue that childhood dream.

At University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, his hometown university, he changed his major to geology and never looked back. He earned his B.S. in Geology in 2015 and moved next to Western Washington University. There he studied under Mastcam-Z Co-I Dr. Melissa Rice and had the opportunity to attend Mars-2020 team meetings, contribute to the Mastcam-Z team, and realize his childhood dreams by earning his M.S. in Planetary Geology in 2018.

He is now an MSL MMM operator and the Mastcam-Z Data Management (ZDM) Lead at Malin Space Science Systems in sunny San Diego. Outside of the thrilling world of Mars exploration, Darian is an avid gardener (ask him if you want any bananas. PLEASE. His banana tree is too prolific. Seriously. See the pic.), loving husband, dog owner, gamer, rabid basketball fan, and gym rat. Darian is also a STEM ambassador who does school speaking events to encourage young students of color from underprivileged backgrounds to not be afraid of forging a path in STEM as he has.

Jess Mollerup

Jess Mollerup ('20)


Jess is a geology graduate student at Western Washington University, where they use reflectance spectroscopy and multispectral imaging to study the composition of sands and soils on Mars. Jess received their B.S. in physics, with minors in astronomy and chemistry, from WWU in 2020 and their research interests include remote sensing, space exploration, and the origins of life.

Outside of the lab, Jess is passionate about science communication and dedicated to building inclusive and equitable spaces in STEM for folks from underrepresented and targeted identities.

Scott Linneman

Dr. Scott Linneman


Dr. Scott Linneman is a Professor of Geology, director of Western’s Honors Program, and a Mars exploration enthusiast.

Questions & Accommodations

Contact the Western Alumni Association for this event. Feel free to call at 360.650.3353 or email at if you have any questions or comments.

There will be auto-captions available for this event. To request closed captions, please mark the request on the registration form. Advance notice of three days to one week is appreciated.