Dr van Zyl is a graduate of the University of Stellenbosch (Bachelor’s degree) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) (Master’s and Doctorate). He joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 1986, where he started as a research scientist developing models to infer soil moisture from space-borne radar images. He has been based in the United States of America since 1982, and has assumed various roles such as being an academic teaching at Caltech. Currently, he is the Director for Solar System Exploration at JPL, where he is responsible for a portfolio exceeding USD$750 million per year, which includes missions to Mars, asteroids Psyche, Vesta and Ceres, Jupiter, Europa, and the Saturnian system.
During the lecture, which was attended by science enthusiasts from all walks of life, Dr van Zyl discussed the results from recent Mars missions and what has been discovered so far about that planet and others, and their moons. He spoke about the evidence of the presence of water elsewhere in earth’s Solar System, further discussing how this knowledge has fundamentally changed views of what is already known regarding conditions suitable for life to exist.
For nearly 60 years, NASA has been exploring space and the furthest probes have actually ventured beyond the confines of the Solar System. Space telescopes peep deep into the Universe and have discovered thousands of planetary systems, with numerous planets like the Earth orbiting other stars. The talk examined the wonders of earth’s solar system as revealed by NASA missions.
Dr Tjama Tjivikua, the NUST Vice-Chancellor, expressed his gratitude to Dr van Zyl for flying the Namibian flag high on the international platform of this magnitude. He further underscored some new and exciting developments regarding NUST’s contribution to aerospace technology and research in Namibia. He celebrated the friendship with Dr van Zyl.