Newswise — UAB astrophysicist Thomas Wdowiak, Ph.D., is at NASA mission control watching his lifelong dream of extraterrestrial exploration come true. He is a co-investigator on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Athena Science Team, which designed, built and will use the two Mars Rovers. Wdowiak helped develop the instruments and techniques to test the Martian soil for signs that it was ever capable of supporting life. Wdowiak said it is unlikely that the surface of Mars is a life-supporting environment now, but it might have been in the past. "Mars is a tantalizing place, and there's increasing evidence that it could once have been a habitat for life." And that's just what he'll be searching for in the coming weeks as Spirit, and eventually the rover Opportunity, begin their robotic explorations.