My name is Patrick Pinet and I live in Toulouse, France. I am a planetary scientist with expertise in the field of planetary surfaces studies. As a member of the ChemCam team, I contributed to the characterization of the potential landing sites for MSL and assisted in the selection of analysis tools that will be used for interpreting the ChemCam observations. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer, a medical doctor, an astronaut or an astronomer. I had also a deep interest in rocks but weirdly enough I did not want to become a geologist. I ended up being a geophysicist with degrees in Physics and Astronomy. Mars was just a mysterious world far away and my focus was then more on the Moon where we should be settling rapidly.
My scientific interest in Mars came with the great opposition of 1988. At that time, Mars was relatively close to Earth and the next time this would happen again would be in a very distant future, i.e. 2003! In 1988 we were testing the first CCD cameras used for telescopic monitoring of planets at Pic-du-Midi observatory in the French Pyrenees. We set up an observational campaign at that time and made great multispectral observations of Mars; seeing through the martian dust and detecting spectral signatures indicative of the presence of magmatic minerals. It triggered my curiosity for Mars geology, volcanism, and evolution.
My participation in different space missions such as Clementine and Mars Express has prepared me for exploring Mars with ChemCam. Mars is important to study because, in our present state of knowledge of the Red Planet, it is the closest planet to our own world in terms of both environmental conditions and geology. Whatever the politics, mankind will set its foot there in not too distant a future. On a more fundamental note, we need to study, in a very detailed way, at least one other body other than Earth to truly be able to compare the evolution of planetary objects. Mars may not be the Holy Grail but it is surely the easiest case among all the planets of the Solar System to achieve this.