• John Grotzinger, Caltech's Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology and former Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project scientist, on the left; Ashwin Vasavada (PhD '98), the new MSL project scientist, on the right
    Credit: Bob Paz/Caltech; JPL

Grotzinger Steps Down as Curiosity’s Project Scientist

Caltech geologist John Grotzinger, who was recently named chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, has stepped down as project scientist for NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity. He is succeeded by Ashwin Vasavada (PhD '98) of JPL.

Grotzinger, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology at Caltech, has served as project scientist for Curiosity's mission, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), since 2007. Prior to that, he had been actively involved as a member of the science team for both the Mars Exploration rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Since Curiosity's suspenseful landing on Mars in August 2012—dubbed the "Seven Minutes of Terror"—its team of scientists has discovered an ancient alluvial fan and lake system that filled in a 3.6 billion year-old impact crater the size of the Los Angeles basin. The science team also determined that the chemistry of this geologic system would have supported microbial chemolithotrophy—the usage of inorganic compounds as a source of energy—if life had ever evolved on Mars.

"I have considered it a privilege to help guide the MSL mission for almost eight years," remarks Grotzinger. "We accomplished the principal goal of the mission—to find an ancient habitable environment—and I will now enjoy spending more time working on the mission data as a science team member."

Grotzinger's successor, Vasavada, had been deputy project scientist for MSL for the last 10 years. He has also worked on the science teams for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and for the Cassini mission to Saturn. He earned his doctorate in planetary science from Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences.

"Ashwin Vasavada is a great choice as the next project scientist," says Grotzinger. "He has a very strong technical background, an intimate understanding of the science instruments and rover flight systems, and brings real passion for the exploration of Mars."

For more about this transition, read JPL's release.

Written by Lori Dajose