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From: Dan Dubrick
To: All
Date: 2003-05-21 00:49:00
Subject: 5\05 Canada - U.Toronto student ponders 'ultimate road trip'

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Department of Public Affairs
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario

CONTACT:

U of T Public Affairs
ph: (416) 978-8638; email: news.events{at}utoronto.ca

May 5, 2003

Mission to Mars

Doctoral student Darlene Lim ponders 'ultimate road trip'

By Jenny Hall

Scientists estimated that in five billion years the sun will become a 
red giant, swallowing up Earth and everything else in its path.
Darlene Lim, a PhD student in geology and an expert on Mars
exploration, is planning ahead.

"Eventually we will lose our biosphere; we will actually have to get 
humans off this planet," she says. "We have to get beyond the Earth
and then potentially move outside our own solar system."

Lim has spent several field seasons in the Canadian High Arctic
working on the NASA Haughton Mars Project. Led by the SETI (Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, the initiative brings
researchers together at Haughton Crater, the site of an impact event 
that occurred 23 million years ago.

The crater functions as what's called a Mars analog because of its 
geologic and environmental similarities to the red planet. "If you
put on red sunglasses and look at the landscape, it's amazing," she
says. "It looks like a Viking or a Pathfinder image."

Lim is a paleolimnologist -- she studies ancient lakes -- and her own 
research focuses on climate change. A chance meeting at a conference
put her in touch with NASA researchers who wanted someone to study
sediment at the crater, once a lake.

Scientists know that there is water on the surface of Mars, mostly 
likely in a solid state, and believe it might once have had flowing 
water on its surface. "Here on Earth we know that where you find
water you'll most likely find life," explains Lim. Lim has her
parents to thank for her interest in science --- and Jacques
Cousteau. "He was my childhood hero," she says. "And the naturalist
in me was developed through my parents. My folks came here from
Singapore. They were great. They really embraced their new country. I
mean, you don't go camping in crowded areas in Asia."

Lim has written articles for children's magazines, acted as a TV 
commentator during Mars probe missions and made dozens of
presentations to school children. "You just never know who in that
audience could be the first one to step out on the surface of Mars,"
she says. "Or one of them might be the person that builds the capsule
that takes people to Mars." 

This sense of personal responsibility feeds into Lim's emphatic
belief in the importance of scientific research. "From our
standpoint, sitting here in North America, I think it's our
responsibility to push forward for exploration of other planets," she
says. "It's our privilege and it's our luxury to be able to sit in
our offices and think of those things." 

NASA has no official mandate to send humans to Mars but the Mars 
Society, a non-profit research organization, also operates at the 
crater. In the summer of 2000 Lim was part of the inaugural crew of
the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, the world's first Mars
simulation base.

"It looks like a 21-foot-high giant paint can," she says of the 
simulator she lived in for two summers. A mission to Mars, given the 
current state of technology, would take about three years -- 11
months to reach the planet, 500 days spent on the surface and 11
months to return to Earth.

"It's the ultimate road trip," says Lim, who also has a pilot's
license -- something she picked up between speaking gigs and trips to
the Arctic. After completing her degree later this year, Lim is bound
for a post-doctoral fellowship at the NASA Ames Research Centre in
California. 

Lim sees Mars as a springboard to other kinds of space exploration.
"If you can get humans to Mars," she says, "if you can help them
establish a civilization there, then I think you have the potential
to move off and perpetuate the human race."

[Jenny Hall is a feature writer at the School of Graduate Studies.
This story is one of a series that will appear in The Bulletin and on
the SGS Web site at www.sgs.utoronto.ca/gradprofiles.]

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