Are we alone in the universe? Adrian Brown is studying rocks on Mars in the hope of helping us find out.
A former Australian Navy officer and weapons engineer, Adrian is now deputy program scientist for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. This mission has a spaceship containing the robotic explorer ‘Perseverance’, currently hurtling towards the Red Planet at 50,000 kilometres per hour, scheduled to land on 18 February 2021.
The spacecraft must survive “seven minutes of terror” as it enters Mars’ thin atmosphere before ‘Perseverance’ is lowered by a sky crane onto the planet’s cold, apparently desolate, surface.
“This is an amazing time to be alive,” says Adrian of humanity’s current efforts to explore – and maybe even one day colonise – Mars, a feat he believes is “imminent”.
Launching a global space career
In high school, Adrian says he liked both humanities and STEM subjects, but chose a STEM pathway on the suggestion of his dad. He studied a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering through the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, before serving as a weapons engineer in the navy. He also has a Master’s in computer science and has worked in software engineering roles.
After completing a PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Macquarie University, Adrian was awarded a scholarship at NASA – and went on to work at NASA’s SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute.
Now, Adrian is continuing that search for life on other planets in his role on NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. “Mars 2020 is definitely the coolest project I have worked on!” says Adrian, who adds that he’s super excited for when the rocks that Perseverance collects on Mars are returned to Earth in 2031 for scientists like him to see and study.
Some more about Adrian
However, as seriously enviable as Adrian’s global space career sounds, it hasn’t been without its challenges, he adds. “Travelling over to the US to work and leaving behind my family was hard.”
When Adrian isn’t searching for life on other planets, the US-based Aussie is a big Triple J and AFL fan. He’s also a qualified pilot and has flown planes over remote Western Australia.
Career path and qualifications:
- Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, Australian Defence Force Academy
- Weapons Engineering Officer, Royal Australian Navy
- PhD (Earth and Planetary Sciences), Macquarie University
- Research Scientist, SETI Institute
- Deputy Program Scientist, Mars 2020 Mission, NASA
Author: Dr Astha Singh
Astha is the Managing Editor at Refraction Media. She is a STEM Marketer and holds a Honors, Masters & PhD degree in Science. She has been producing STEM marketing content for over 10 years and is an avid advocate of Diversity in the STEM industry.