"Follow the water": Steve squyres and the mars exploration rovers

James A. Smith, Tullis C. Onstott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Steve Squyres was responsible for assembling the team of scientists, engineers and instruments that formed the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). Squyres developed a vision that small-scale observations made by a robotic geologist on Mars would be the key for resolving the mystery of water on Mars. Prior to the MER missions, planetary scientists were divided between groups holding that ancient fluvial-like surface features on Mars were formed by water and those holding that the erosive and depositional forces were tied to liquid and gaseous CO2. At issue was a fundamental understanding not only of early Martian geological processes and early solar luminosity, but also the possibility of life on Mars. To resolve these questions, Squyres and his team developed a new breed of rovers that were capable of identifying minerals and collecting textural observations. The resulting twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, have successfully resolved the single most important question about Mars that scientists have been debating for the past 30 years, providing compelling evidence for the action of water on the Martian surface. Squyres and the MER team have also initiated a new era in planetary exploration and inspired a new generation of students to become scientists and explorers. Steve Squyres and the MER team produced fundamental insights into the geology and climatology of Mars. These have resulted in major advances in our understanding of the potential for life on other planets and of life's evolution on Earth. For the discovery and elucidation of water on Mars through the "robotic geologists" of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Steve Squyres was awarded the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-452
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Franklin Institute
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Applied Mathematics


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