Teen Makes NASA's Mars Team, Will Pick The Landing Site For Mars Mission

Daybreak at Gale Crater
On Saturday, November 26, NASA is scheduled to launch the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission featuring Curiosity, the largest and most advanced rover ever sent to the Red Planet. The Curiosity rover bristles with multiple cameras and instruments, including Goddard’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. By looking for evidence of water, carbon, and other important building blocks of life in the Martian soil and atmosphere, SAM will help discover whether Mars ever had the potential to support life. Curiosity will be delivered to Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide crater that contains a record of environmental changes in its sedimentary rock, in August 2012. Flickr/NASA CC BY 2.0

A teenager’s proposal is likely going to be NASA’s next choice for the landing site of the Mars rover, which will happen sometime in 2020.


Sophomore Alex Longo of Raleigh, North Carolina is thrilled to be part of The Planetary Society since he has been a huge fan of space exploration for as long as he could remember. He had his first space exploration experience in 2005 when he was just about 5 years old. His parents had him watch the launch of the Discovery space shuttle.

He remembered that watching that launch became the start of his passion for space exploration. He dreamed of not only visiting space someday, but he wants to be part of the team who will first step foot on Mars. He became a follower of NASA and continuously monitors the website for updates. One day, he came across an announcement back in 2014. “I saw that they were looking for abstracts from scientists to suggest landing sites,” he said. “I decided, well, I’ll write something up.”

He regularly writes letter to NASA before. “Each time, they sent me cool space shuttle mission posters or patches,” he said. “I’ll have my very small say in this,” he figured, “and maybe they’ll send me some cool stuff.” Alex suggested that the rover should land in the exact spot where Spirit rover landed in 2004. The site was named Gusev Crater and Spirit recorded promising signs of life in the area so Alex believes it is definitely worth the second look. Instead of posters and updates, they invited Alex to go to their first landing site planning meeting making him thrilled and happy.

He said he couldn’t believe he was actually invited. “I thought it was a dream or something. So I just got up, walked away, and a while later I came back and that email was still there. And I was like, ‘Wow, I actually just got invited to go to a NASA conference!’ How cool is that?” The meeting was held in a hotel near NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Alex was asked to make a short talk in the last session of the meeting.

He recalled being scared and totally lost. Why? “Because there are 125 Ph.D.s and grad students in that room, and I probably am by far the least experienced or knowledgeable person there. And I’m giving a presentation to all these people,” he said.


“When he finished, the entire room burst into applause. Everybody recognized how special this was for this young person,” his mom recalls the spectacular moment for her son. Now, he is already an official member of Mars team and set to have another meeting next year to shorten the list of proposals to four from the eight finalists.

In addition, Alex was invited by NASA to go to their next conference to pick the landing site for the first humans to set foot on Mars. “Because if I really am going to be the first guy to go there, I want to have a say in where I am landing,” he ended.

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from Department of Space Exploration