A small army of researchers is converging on Tucson for the University of Arizona-led Phoenix Mars Lander mission.
About 150 scientists, technicians and support staff from Tucson and around the world will be based at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory’s Science Operations Center to run the surface science operations for the $420 million mission.
The Lander, which is scheduled to arrive on Mars on Sunday after a 422-million-mile journey that began Aug. 4, will seek evidence of water and elements of life on Mars by analyzing soil and ice samples scooped from the planet’s northern arctic region.
The primary mission is expected to last 90 Martian days, or the equivalent of 92 Earth days. The mission will end when the Lander’s solar panels can no longer provide enough power to operate the craft during the dark, cold Martian winter.
Here is a look at some of the experts and the roles they play in the mission.
Peter Smith, the principal investigator, is responsible for all aspects of the Phoenix Mars Lander mission. He assembled the team and developed the proposal that received funding for the mission.
A senior research scientist at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Smith has been involved in earlier Mars exploration efforts including the Mars Pathfinder, the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander, the canceled 2001 Surveyor lander mission, the Mars Exploration Rovers, Beagle 2, and the UA High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera.
Leslie Tamppari is the mission’s project scientist. A UA graduate, she works for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Tamppari has worked on a number of space projects, including serving as deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.
Mark Lemmon is the science lead for the Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager, a camera that will offer researchers panoramic 3-D views of the planet from 7 feet above the surface.
Lemmon, a research scientist in the Texas A&M atmospheric science department, earned his doctorate in planetary science from UA.
Uwe Keller is a co-investigator for atmospheres for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission.
Keller is from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. He was one of the initiators of the European Space Agency’s Giotto Mission to Halley’s comet and the principal investigator of the Halley Multicolor Camera imager.
Carol Stoker is co-investigator for 3-D mapping, spectroscopy and habitability for the mission.
She is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Stoker is involved in planning for robotic and human exploration of Mars for NASA.
William Boynton is the lead for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, an instrument that will use eight tiny ovens to heat Martian soil and ice samples to determine chemical characteristics of the material.
Boynton, a veteran of several Mars exploration efforts, is a professor at UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
Michael Hecht heads the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer, a JPL-built device that will use tiny wet chemistry labs and two types of microscopes to analyze material collected from the Martian surface.
A physicist at JPL, Hecht has worked on other Mars exploration missions.
Urs Staufer will focus on Martian soil analysis using the mission’s Atomic Force Microscope to measure small dust, soil and hopefully ice particles. He is associated professor at the Institute of Microtechnology at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Barry Goldstein is the Phoenix project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He is responsible for managing the team that will get the Lander safely on the Martian surface.
He has worked on various deep space projects for 22 years, most recently serving as deputy flight system manager for the hugely successful Mars Exploration Rover project.
Chris Shinohara is Science Operations Center manager for the Phoenix mission, overseeing activity at the Tucson facility where the science team will work during landed mission operations and run experiments on the surface of Mars.
A UA graduate now with the Lunar and Planetary Lab, Shinohara has worked on a number of other projects including Mars Observer, Mars Pathfinder and Mars Surveyor.
Robert Bonitz is the Robotic Arm manager for the Phoenix mission.
The 7.7-foot-long arm will dig trenches in the Martian surface, and scoop and deliver soil and ice samples to the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer and Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer instruments.
He is with the Telerobotics Research and Applications Group at the JPL.
Pat Woida is an instrument engineer for mission cameras and works in the Payload Interoperability Testbed, or PIT, in Tucson, where a full-scale engineering model of the Phoenix Lander is used for testing and operational readiness tests for researchers to practice the activities that will take place on the Martian surface.
Mission scientists will continue to use the PIT after landing to test scenarios and solutions to any unforeseen anomalies before they take action on Mars.
Tucson Citizen Mars page: www.tucsoncitizen.com/mars