2017 GHOST Rover Tests: Our Team

The 2017 GHOST Rover Tests kicked off in Mid-October with a fantastic collection of planetary scientists.  See below for the who’s who of the 2017 GHOST mission:


Aileen Yingst, PI


Dr. R. Aileen Yingst is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, a research institution headquartered in Tucson, AZ. She is a Participating Scientist on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission and Deputy Principal Investigator for the Mars Handlens Imager instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. She is also an associate on the Dawn at Ceres mission. Other missions that Dr. Yingst has worked on include Dawn at Vesta, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Polar Lander, and Galileo. Dr. Yingst served as Director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium for 14 years.


Dr. Yingst received her AB from Dartmouth College in Physics and Astronomy, and her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Brown University. She lives with her family in Brunswick, Maine.


Becky Williams


Becky is excited for a return engagement with the GHOST team to another fantastic region of interest in the state of Utah.  Once again, she is partnering with fellow geologists on the Tiger Team to ground-truth the geologic history preserved in the rock record.  She enjoys time in the field investigating water-carved landforms and deposits, particularly ones in inverted relief, at sites in Utah, Spain, Australia and the Chilean Atacama Desert.  Becky’s investigations of martian geomorphology focus on constraining the relative timing, duration, and magnitude of fluvial processes on Mars.


She received her bachelor’s in geology at Franklin & Marshall College and doctoral degree in planetary geology at Washington University in St. Louis working with Roger Phillips. Becky is a senior scientist with the Planetary Science Institute and works from Madison, Wisconsin, where she resides with her husband and two daughters. Becky is a science team member of the THEMIS and CTX instruments and a participating scientist with the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.


Linda Kah


Dr. Linda C. Kah is a Professor of carbonate sedimentology and geochemistry in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of Tennessee. She received concurrent BS and MS degrees in Geology from MIT in 1990, followed by a PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard in 1997; she joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee in 2000.


Growing up in northeastern Ohio, Linda was fascinated with the world around her. By kindergarten, Linda was pretty sure that geology was for her — she was, quite simply, fascinated by the endless diversity and beauty of rocks. At the age of nine, Linda’s nature-loving parents took her on a vacation to the western US. Upon seeing White Sands, New Mexico, and the Canyonlands of Utah, she was hooked.


Linda’s love of geology has only grown over the last 40 years, and in her research she works to decipher how ecosystems arise on planets; how biological processes interact with, and are recorded in, geological systems; and how rocks preserve information about past life. Linda’s research has taken her to some of the most remote places on Earth, including the Canadian Arctic, Saharan West Africa, the Ural mountains of Russia, China, and the high Andes of Argentina. Since August 2012, She has been working in an even more remote environment as a science team member and payload uplink lead in Curiosity’s investigation of Gale Crater. This is Linda’s second field season as part of the GHOST team, and she brings to the table her background as a field geologist. The last few years of rover mission activities, however, have opened her eyes to the necessity of human field simulations as a mechanism to advance our rover planning abilities.


Michelle Minitti


Michelle Minitti, Principal of Framework, specializes in activities at the intersection of science, engineering and operations typified by spacecraft operations. She received her B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Arizona (1995), and her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Brown University (1998, 2001). As a member of the Mars Science Laboratory science team, Minitti helps plan and execute observations by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) investigations. She is also a member of the Mars 2020 Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) science team.


This is Minitti’s second GHOST field experience. In 2015, she served as a member of the walkabout rover team; this year, she will serve as a member of linear rover team. She looks forward to working with the GHOST team once again!


Barbara Cohen


Dr. Barbara Cohen is a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Originally from upstate New York, Dr. Cohen earned her BS in Geology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and her PhD in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona. Her main scientific interests are in geochronology and geochemistry of planetary samples from the Moon, Mars and asteroids. She is a Principal Investigator on multiple NASA research projects, a member of the Mars Exploration Rover mission team still operating the Opportunity rover, and the principal investigator for Lunar Flashlight, a lunar cubesat mission that will be launched in 2018 as an SLS secondary payload. She is the PI for the Mid-Atlantic Noble Gas Research Laboratory (MNGRL) and is developing a flight version of her noble-gas geochronology technique, the Potassium-Argon Laser Experiment (KArLE), for use on future planetary landers and rovers. She has participated in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) over three seasons, where she helped recovered more than a thousand pristine samples for the US collection, and asteroid 6186 Barbcohen is named for her.


Dr. Cohen has been involved in GHOST team activities since their inception in 2010. She brings her experience on Mars rover operations and human field simulations to the GHOST rover team and planning activities, while gaining further geologic field skills.


Julie Bartley


Julie Bartley grew up in Southern California and completed an AB in Chemistry at Bryn Mawr College and an MS in Chemistry at UCLA before becoming a geologist and earning a PhD in Geology at UCLA. Following postdoctoral research at NASA Ames Research Center and Harvard University, Julie joined the faculty at the University of West Georgia. She moved to Gustavus Adolphus College in 2009, where she is an associate professor in Geology and Environmental Studies, currently serving as Associate Provost and Dean of Sciences and Education.


Julie’s research interests lie in the interface of biology, chemistry, and sedimentary processes on the early Earth. She studies microbial ecosystems, the fossilization of microbes, and the geologic structures left behind by microbes. This interest in ancient and microbially-dominated ecosystems has taken her to saline lakes in the Andes and to spectacular microbial reefs of West Africa and the Canadian Arctic. Recently, she’s worked on relatively young microbialites in Wyoming and relatively old ones in southern Ontario. This is her first GHOST project, and she’s joining the field crew for the first time, having recovered from a martial-arts accident that left her “planet-side” during the last excursion.


Brian Hynek


Brian grew up in Iowa and paid for part of college selling sweet corn on the street corner.  Ever since he was little he had a love of rocks and space, so a career in planetary geology fit the bill.  After earning his Bachelors at the University of Northern Iowa, he taught high school physics and chemistry in an inner-city school in San Antonio, TX.  Then he headed to Washington University and worked with Roger Phillips on various Mars surface process issues.  Disliking the flatlands, he headed to Colorado as a post-doc at the the University of Colorado-Boulder.  He became a permanent research scientist, and later a tenured professor.


Brian’s research focuses on: (1) planetary geologic mapping of Mars and Mercury, (2) the fluvial history of Mars, (3) Mars volcanism, (4) astrobiology, (5) fieldwork studying hydrothermal systems on modern Earth and how they relate to relic systems on Mars.  The latter provides a chance to climb into active volcanoes around the world and understand how they work and how those on early Mars operated.


Ramy El-Maarry


Ramy is an Egyptian planetary scientist focusing on understanding the geology of planetary surfaces. His work is primarily focused on Mars but also extends to small bodies, especially comets. Ramy is an active member in the MRO/HiRISE, TGO/CaSSIS, and Rosetta/OSIRIS teams.










Tom Chidsey


Tom grew up in the Washington DC metropolitan area. As the “senior citizen” of the GHOST mission, Tom followed the early days of human space exploration throughout his childhood, from when in the third grade he watched Alan Sheppard blastoff in the Redstone rocket to the first landing on the moon to help celebrate his 17 th birthday, July 20, 1969. Tom has been fascinated with planetary geology and is thrilled to help the Tiger Team of the GHOST mission. Tom graduated with Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in geology from Brigham Young University. After spending 13 years in the petroleum industry with Exxon in South Texas and Questar in the Rocky Mountain region, Tom joined the Utah Geological Survey in 1989 where he is a Senior Scientist. His research includes petroleum reservoir studies (especially carbonates including microbialites), oil and gas field summaries, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration, the geology of Utah’s parks, and outcrop reservoir and occasional Mars analog investigations. The Tiger Team is drawing on Tom’s many years of experience and extensive knowledge of Utah geology to assist with the GHOST mission.


Mike Vanden Berg


Mike Vanden Berg grew up in southwest Michigan where the saying goes, “lower Michigan has great geology and it is only 1 mile away, straight down through the glacial till.” Despite this fact, Mike received a B.S. in geology from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and then headed west to play with “real” rocks in Utah. After completing his M.S. degree in geology at the University of Utah, Mike joined the Utah Geological Survey and has been there ever since, going on 15 years. He is currently the Energy and Minerals Program Manager. Mike’s main area of research includes the lacustrine Green River Formation and the study of its amazing microbialites. Mike also investigates the extensive microbialites in Great Salt Lake as a possible analogue for ancient lacustrine deposits. Oh, and he is a ski bum.


Sarah Black


Sarah Black received her Geology BA in 2004, and Geology MS in 2006 – both from the State University of New York at Buffalo.  For her MS, Sarah worked with Dr. Tracy Gregg (who is 100% responsible for luring Sarah away from her original undergraduate plan of biomedical science and stem cell research – thank goodness), and conducted a morphological and statistical analysis of volcanoes on Io – the innermost moon of Jupiter.


After completing her MS, Sarah worked at Malin Space Science Systems, where she targeted the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft, and the Context Camera (CTX) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.  She then returned to her hometown in Upstate New York, where she taught introductory geology courses at Skidmore College for several years.


Sarah is currently a 5th year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder in Brian Hynek’s Surface Processes And Continuing Evolution of Contemporary Analogous TerraneS (SPACECATS) lab.  For her dissertation research, Sarah is studying hydrothermal systems in Costa Rica and Iceland, which may be useful analogs for early Mars.  Sarah’s current research focuses on instrumentation techniques (VNIR, XRD, Raman), mineralogy, geochemistry, and astrobiology.  She is also interested in physical volcanology, computer modeling, and geological mapping.  Sarah has fallen in love with fieldwork over the years, and has been fortunate enough to travel to Hawaii, Yellowstone, all over the desert southwest, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and now Iceland, and call it “work.”


For this year’s GHOST project, Sarah will once again be operating the VNIR instrument and enjoying wandering the Utah desert.


John Gemperline


John Gemperline is a 2nd year Ph.D. student in planetary geology at CU Boulder with Dr. Hynek.  He studied geology and geography as an undergraduate at both East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and has also dabbled in classics and music.


John first began studying planetary geology in middle school when his science club participated in the Mars Student Imaging Project in 2002.  He interned at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in 2012 where he studied craters around Martian outflow channels and visited Mars analog sites in Arizona.  For the past year John has been mapping the area around the Rembrandt impact basin and studying lobate scarps on Mercury.


While sitting in on Dr. Hynek’s class, John was able to visit a previous GHOST field site on a class field trip that involved each student drawing a nominal rover traverse.  John is excited to be the XRD instrument and not on rover ops after his own imaginary rover ended up driving off a cliff last fall.  He has been honing his XRD skills and will once again be providing crystallographic and mineralogical analysis for the two rover teams and Tiger team.


Rachel Kronyak


Rachel Kronyak is a third-year PhD student of Linda Kah’s at the University of Tennessee. A NJ native, Rachel spent her time growing up on the soccer field or at the Jersey shore- collecting sea glass, body surfing, and taking long walks on the beach (seriously). A fortuitous high school scholarship granted Rachel the opportunity to spend a week in Huntsville, Alabama attending Space Camp, which is where she realized that her dream was to work for NASA. Rachel went on to get her bachelors degree from Penn State, where she studied geobiology, astrobiology, and marine science, and spent all 4 years in a research lab experimenting with extremophile bacteria. Also while in college, Rachel had the opportunity to intern for 2 summers at NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center, where she continued her work with extremophiles and studied the effects of Mars-like conditions on their survivability. Once Rachel started her graduate studies at UT, she became a member of the Mars Science Laboratory team and actively participates in several mission operations roles, including Documentarian, Geo Keeper of the Plan, and Payload Uplink Lead for the Mastcam instrument. For her PhD, Rachel is working with several forms of Mars datasets, including MSL and HiRISE, to understand the nature of rock fractures and veins in Gale crater. When she’s not on Mars, Rachel spends her time CrossFitting, running, cooking, and hanging out with her shelter pup, Sadie.


Mike Lotto


Mike Lotto is pursuing an MS in Geological Sciences with Dr. Brian Hynek, as well as a PhD in Aerospace Engineering Sciences with Dr. David Klaus at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has a BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering Sciences and a Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology from CU Boulder.


Mike’s previous experiences include internships with operations groups in the International Space Station program at NASA Johnson Space Center, research on NASA’s “Weightless Wonder”, and a rotation as crew engineer at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah.


He is currently formulating a research topic for his MS, but between his interests in geomorphology and fieldwork, he hopes to use the experiences from this year’s GHOST project to guide his work moving forward. He is very excited to serve as the rover during this field campaign.


Madison Adams


I’m Madison! I’m an undergraduate student at Gustavus Adolphus College working on my bachelors in Geology. Geology and planetary science were never on my radar growing up, but now I’m lucky enough to have this awesome experience that all of my undergraduate friends can be jealous of! I’ll be working as a rover in the field this fall and I’m super excited to work with everyone on this project!